The White Review
The White Review is a quarterly arts, culture and politics journal published in print and online, and established on a non-profit economic model. The current print issue is available to buy in bookshops and via the website, or by subscription. The website is updated with new, usually web-only content in the first week of each month.
The review was conceived as a platform to promote contemporary writing and art, and to bring new work to a wider audience. It takes its name and a degree of inspiration from La Revue Blanche, a Parisian magazine which ran from 1899 to 1903.
The review is edited by Benjamin Eastham and Jacques Testard who kindly submitted to my email questions whilst in the middle of preparing Issue 4...
Mark Thwaite: With the rise and rise of all things e-, web- and cloud-based, is it really a good time to be starting an old-fashioned paper-based journal?
TWR: The fact that there are new means of communicating, of reading and being read, is a good thing for anyone dissatisfied, as we were, with mainstream publishing as an industry. We consider ourselves a part of the rise you mentioned, because we think that that growth is symptomatic of a move towards greater pluralism and adventurousness in our reading and publishing habits.
Our website is a cornerstone of the project – we publish dedicated online issues every month, which content is available to everyone, and we’re looking to include material appropriate to that format. We recently published a short video shot in Tahrir Square during the final days of President Mubarak’s regime. We’ll also be looking to publish short art videos. So we try to play to the strengths of each format. For example, speaking generally, we carry shorter pieces on the website and longer pieces in the print issue. This is I suppose a reflection of our own experiences of reading on screen and reading a physical book.
Beyond that, we believe in the value of the book as a physical object. Neither do we consider this to be an old-fashioned attitude. Publishing will go down two different routes: there’s no point knocking out a cheap, poorly bound paperback on crap paper any more because you’re as well to read the content on an electronic reader. The book as a medium has to justify itself now, it’s no longer the default option, and this is to its benefit. We’ve witnessed an upsurge in beautifully produced books, with enormous amounts of time and creativity invested in them – check out Visual Editions, for just one example, and the work of artists and independent galleries exploring the possibilities offered by the book form. The design of The White Review is important to us – the quality of the images we reproduce, the balance of the colours, the alignment and legibility of the text. We value the content, so we value the medium in which it is reproduced.
Mark Thwaite: Regardless, then, of the format – is it a good time to be starting an arts, culture and politics journal at all? Aren't such things outmoded, even elitist?
TWR: No. We feel very strongly about this. The arts, culture and politics aren’t outmoded: they’re absolutely pertinent to the way we live today, and so by extension is any source that can provide people with greater access to their practice and discussion. To dismiss the discussion of complicated subjects as elitist is to deny people a stake in them. It’s to fall victim to the fallacy that people aren’t willing to tackle difficult subjects, or to engage with things that aren’t blindingly obvious. As editors we might make poor decisions of which readers disapprove, but we have no intention of patronising them.
Mark Thwaite: Isn't The *White* Review a rather ill-advised name?
TWR: We considered this. Ultimately we decided it wasn’t. We liked the name, and we liked its (non-cutaneous) connotations – the link to La Revue Blanche among them – and we decided that to reject a title we felt comfortable with on the basis of what is ultimately a pathological over-sensitivity about being wilfully misconstrued would be ridiculous, and fly in the face of our own stated principles. Last but not least, we are massive Tranmere Rovers fans (Google will help you work that one out...)
Mark Thwaite: You obviously think TWR fills a 'gap in the market', so why do you think that gap was there in the first place and how then does it fill it?
TWR: We identified what we hoped was a gap in the UK market for a periodical that catered for a broader interest in the arts than the largely specialist publications that are well-established here. I don’t know why that gap was there – perhaps because the British tend to delineate the visual arts from literature from fashion from politics in a way that the Americans or the French don’t (and much of our inspiration came from publications based abroad, like n+1, the Paris Review or Cabinet). We were also eager to publish something that was aesthetically attractive and therefore collectible – we don’t believe enough attention is paid by British publishers to design, which is a shame given that there are so many great British designers.
There is also the striking dearth of options for young writers, and to a lesser extent, artists emerging today in Britain. Who do you go to, in the UK, to publish a long-form essay, a piece of reportage or a short story, if you are just starting out? Part of this endeavour was to open up what is ultimately a rather staid industry, with few breakthroughs, few opportunities for younger generations. That’s why our commitment to new and emerging writers and artists is so pronounced – we’re trying to kick-start careers, and with that comes a willingness for experimentation that we don’t see much elsewhere in British publications. By 2015, we’ll hopefully have published the Joyce of the twenty-first century. Failing that, we’ll publish the real Joyce (see below).
Mark Thwaite: Anybody reading the review can see that presentation is key to your ethos – why is it so important to you that TWR looks the way it does?
TWR: We just think the way everything is presented is important. You don’t take a great painting and stick it in the cupboard. It’s an expression of our respect for the content that we spend so much time and energy housing it in something that we believe presents it to its best advantage, and which the reader can enjoy. When we say ‘we’, we really mean our designer Ray O’Meara, for whom (and we’re putting words into his mouth here) every edition must be a coherently produced, satisfying work. Speaking personally (Ben), it’s like really great architecture – it can be considered independently of the objects it holds or in concert with them. We hope that either way the design adds to the appeal of the journal, gives it a ‘collectible’ dimension. And, by the way, back issues are on sale on our website...
Mark Thwaite: How did you get such a handsome – dare I say 'expensive' - looking magazine off the ground in the first place?
TWR: To get the money together for a first issue we set up a crowd-funding appeal. The idea was that sponsors gained access to certain perks by pledging to us in advance of the launch. We took pre-orders on copies of the first issue before we even had it together, and we sold subscriptions too. We relied upon donations small and large to get going, and we still rely upon donations to help us along. As regards the expense, we’re lucky to have a great relationship with the brilliant printing house PUSH, in Bermondsey, whose patience, understanding and willingness to be involved in the project has allowed us to experiment. Unfortunately, we’re still unable to pay contributors but we’re hoping this will change some time soon. In the meantime, and we’re quoting ourselves here from the second issue editorial, ‘We hope that the context in which [artists’ and writers’ work] is reproduced justifies, for now, the time devoted to their art.’
Mark Thwaite: What do you hope the journal achieves?
TWR: We hope really that maybe a few people read it and come across something they might not otherwise have read, and that the experience is in some small way a stimulus, or that it makes them angry, or anything that involves a reaction, really. On a personal level, if we can shake things up a bit, help new writers and artists on their way to success, and prove that there is space for this kind of venture over time, we’ll be delighted.
Mark Thwaite: How do you choose your contributors?
TWR: They very often choose us. We accept unsolicited submissions – a point of principle when it’s so hard for writers without agents to get anywhere. Beyond that, we do a bit of headhunting – approaching people whose work we have seen elsewhere and admire, and people are often recommended to us. As for interviewees, we have a dream list, but suggestions are welcome.
Mark Thwaite: What is your favourite/most important or exciting contribution so far?
Ben: The most exciting contribution is actually hearing back from people – receiving emails disputing or praising pieces that we’ve published. Which brings rise to discussion, which is exciting. The discussions post-publication are the most interesting really. By the time we actually publish anything we’ve both read it so many times, and moved so many commas about, that we’re pretty much sick to death of it.
Jacques: In terms of importance, getting a hold of some unpublished Primo Levi letters for the first issue was a big deal. It gave us (a bit of) legitimacy when getting in touch with writers and artists like Paula Rego, Tom McCarthy and Des Hogan – all of whom eventually agreed to be a part of it.
Mark Thwaite: Who would you really like to publish?
TWR:The copyright on James Joyce’s work has just expired so we’re considering putting out Ulysses for next Christmas, with a few editorial interventions where we think he goes on a bit.
Mark Thwaite: What are your future plans for TWR (and associated enterprises)?
TWR: Survival (thewhitereview.org/donate). Each issue very nearly pays for the next, and the shortfall has, thus far, been covered by donations. Beyond that: paying contributors, maybe ourselves a bit later on, and if we’re still alive, we’ll try to publish some books.
Mark Thwaite: What are you both currently reading?
Ben: The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass and Fluxus Experience by Hannah Higgins.
Jacques: I’ve just finished Cairo: My City, Our Revolution by Ahdaf Soueif, whom I just interviewed for issue 4. I’m now going back to Infinite Jest, which I’ve been reading on and (mainly) off for the last four months.