Mal Journal is ‘a journal of sexuality and erotics’, and this issue is subtitled Real Girls. Previous issues include Plantsex, Made in Heaven, and That Obscure Object. Of all the magazines at the magCulture Shop, Mal Journal is in my top ten. I am biased: I like literary magazines, and Mal is everything a good journal should be.
I started reading the first story (‘Beyond Criticism’ by Luke Brown) during lunch. When I accidentally left my copy of Mal in the studio that night, I was able to finish reading Brown’s story on my phone via the website version of the journal.
While the experience was similar, thanks to editor Maria Dimitrova’s intention to keep the online platform ‘algorithm-free, clickbait-proof – as close to the printed word as possible’, it was invariably less rich. Too many distractions, too easy to tap back to the comfortable apps that usually occupy my screen – the ones that require much less thought and attention.
Once I got my physical copy back, I re-read Brown’s story three times. There’s a lot left unsaid – it’s a fresh, deft and darkly funny musing on the so-called ‘post Me-too’ era, boldly going where a twitter thread couldn’t.
That is what I like the most about Mal Journal – the form fits the function. Sexuality is complicated, and online discourse on the topic is ceaseless. These conversations have been accelerated by a daily influx of often contradictory thought-pieces, essays, tweets and fiction that, due to the nature of online space, are all muddled together. The conversation is progressing, but getting involved sometimes feels like trying to run in a dream, or through mud.
Who could forget Cat Person by Kristen Roupenian, the viral New Yorker story about a bad sexual encounter that was initially met with a barrage of online commentary and criticism, before eventually descending into parody accounts and hate-tweets. Roupenian described her frustration as ‘the story was shared again and again, moving it further and further from its original context’. While it was novel to see these conversations play out online, good fiction needs time and attention to criticise and engage with in a considered way. Mal Journal’s editors could not be more aware of this, and with stories like Brown’s that are not dissimilar in tone to Cat Person, they have provided the slow platform these topics require.
Overall, what impresses me most is the simplicity of the journal. Design-wise, Mal have struck gold with a formula that seems unnecessary to change. It’s hard to miss in the shop; each issue is small and bold, a true mark of its content. This bright yellow version includes illustrations by Birdie Hall, bookmarking the issue every 20 pages or so. Including Hall, there are only six contributors.
Mal Journal practically guarantees high quality writing – the first issue boasted contributions from contemporary literary giants Anne Boyer and Eileen Myles. I won’t ruin the contents of issue four, but it goes without saying that each piece is excellent. There can be a temptation to skirt around controversial subjects, and the authors in Mal Journal rip up that impulse, tackling ‘sexuality’ in precisely the way that it demands: with utmost honesty. Fans of The White Review, of Delayed Gratification and Granta, look no further.
Editor: Maria Dimitrova
Creative director: Steve O’Connell
Art direction: Ana Kirova, Dimo Trifonov
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