Jason Parham is the founder and editor-in-chief of Spook, a gorgeous literary magazine dedicated to furthering the cultural conversation by spotlighting alternative voices since 2012. He is also veteran writer and editor with experience at publications like Complex and Gawker, and is currently a senior editor at The Fader.
What was your initial impetus for founding Spook?
I felt there were voices that journals like Granta and The New Yorker ignored. I wanted to do something about that. We launched during the summer of 2012, and there was a real need for a magazine like Spook at the time. And, there still is. With the publishing world being incredibly white, I figured we would be able to offer a more precise, and a more honest, account of black and brown life with Spook. That isn’t to say, for instance, The Paris Review or Harper’s had failed—our most coveted liberal journals still publish important work—but there were people and stories they were leaving behind. What made it worse was, these were people and stories I’ve known and heard my entire life, and I felt they were more than deserving of a proper stage. All that said, Spook didn’t arise out of the ether. It extends the tradition of black storytelling, from magazines in the 1920s like The Crisis and Fire!! to more contemporary journals like Bronx Biannual and Coon Biddness.
Can you explain the story behind the name?
“Spook,” when it’s deployed in the American context, has always been used with the intent of othering someone. This was true for black folk, especially those raised in the South, during the early days of America all the way up until the 1970s, with the release of the film, The Spook Who Sat By the Door. And because Spook is a magazine that features writers and artists who have been left out of the conversation—writers and artists who have essentially been othered—I felt it was a fitting title. It also became a challenge for us to upend its very meaning. I wanted to give the word new life, if that makes sense.
How has the magazine changed and grown since its inception?
We’ve grown in size—we run about 50 to 60 pages now, with no ads. As we’ve grown in size our scope has narrowed, which mostly has to do with each issue since No. 2 having had a theme. I also like to think we’re getting better. I didn’t really know what I was doing in 2012; I mostly improvised until I got it right. Now there’s a set structure in place, a blueprint, and we continually build upon that. If anything, each issue is more ambitious than the last, and I hope to keep that mindset for however long Spook is around.
What advice would you give to other editors/creative people who are considering founding their own magazine?
Just go out and get what you want. Stop waiting for some gatekeeper to give you permission. Know when to ask for help, stay humble, and just do the work. There’s going to be a lot of long hours, but it’ll be worth it, especially if you stay true to yourself and your goals. In other aspects of my life I’ve conceded when I had to, but I won’t compromise Spook’s vision, and that’s partially why I think we’ve been successful.
Watch a video about the latest issue, No. 5 below and purchase it here.
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