Yasemin Altınay lives in Berlin, where she also trained as a publisher and pursued her studies in applied literature. In 2019, she founded the Literarische Diverse publishing house and publishes the eponymous magazine and, as of late, also books. In this interview with poco.lit., she offers insights into her work, talks about her motivation and the challenges of the literary industry.
What motivated you to found a publishing house and why do you think we need a publishing house like Literarische Diverse in Germany?
My motivation probably includes several aspects, all of which make the project so important to me: on the one hand, it’s a consequence of being affected by discrimination, sexism or racism, for example. It’s a consequence of feeling powerless and angry and wanting to resist. On the other hand, it’s the result of reflecting on my reading behaviour, which has changed to the effect that I pay attention to whom I read and which publisher I want to support. In Germany, too little literature by BIPoC and LGBTIQ* people is published and read, even if it seems to change a little bit. It is still far from normal that marginalised voices are published, otherwise we wouldn’t need to talk about it.
The new issue of the magazine is about love and it features an interview with Şeyda Kurt, who thinks about this from the perspective of an author: “At the same time, I observe again and again how authors like us are forced to tone it down. We are hijacked by the white, middle-class mainstream, whose goal it is to pat themselves on the shoulder in praise of their own supposed progressiveness. And then, yes, the question is whether more diverse representations actually lead to real, concrete changes for racialised and queer people in this country. Does it change their working or living conditions? More visibility doesn’t mean that we can rest.”
Therefore, Literarische Diverse is only a small step towards this utopia that I wish for. But I don’t know if it will ever exist. Growing up in Germany means having witnessed that at least 213 people have been murdered by right-wing extremists since 1990. Thousands have been attacked, injured or threatened, and many more remain silent about such violent incidents. People who are directly affected by this violence do not have the privilege to be able to ignore it. Fennet Habte, who contributed to issue #3, speaks of “Resisting bodies – without a choice.”
Every single reader can contribute to change
It is and remains a passion project that developed out of necessity, and I am very excited about where it’s going. One aspect is particularly interesting: whether the literary world will change in the long run. But I am convinced that every single reader can participate in making the change happen, every decision for or against a book or magazine has an impact. This is how my project became possible in the first place, and I am extremely grateful for it. So, it’s up to us – all of us.
How did you come up with the name Literarische Diverse?
Quite simply because of the English term “diverse”, but also because it has the German term “Verse” (verses) in it. I thought about it for a long time and there were other options, but I liked Literarische Diverse best. It reflects exactly what I want to achieve with the publishing house.
Literarische Diverse has published one book of poetry and three magazines so far. The fourth issue of Literarische Diverse will be published shortly. The thematic focus of the magazine has ranged from commitment to language and resistance. Love is up next. How do you choose the topics? What attracts you to them? And why are they relevant?
The choice of theme is a reaction to something that has just happened. Or it is something that I wish would happen. I chose commitment as a theme as a reminder that we have to do something every day to achieve solidarity, an open society. Here I am thinking especially about the responsibility of white people, because marginalised people should not and cannot carry this burden alone. Sorry to quote again, but Roxane Gay said it so beautifully at the international literature festival in Berlin: “There is nothing about discomfort. We have nothing to do about it and it’s not our job. It’s the others. We just got to be here and be beautiful.”
The language issue was inspired by a book I was reading and some linguistic changes in the public sphere that were happening directly after Hanau – there was a new radicalism and public display of hate. Working on issue #2 also saved me during my semester abroad in Copenhagen when I felt extremely powerless. It hurt not to be able to be there to go out into the streets and protest and mourn together. I spontaneously changed the theme of the third issue to resistance one day before announcing the Open Call because of the turmoil at the Reichstag. So, I am also very flexible in the choice of topics. For the next issue I wanted something that would be warmer. The texts deal with love for mothers, friends, loss and mourning, or even sexualized violence. There are trigger warnings in the editorial and again before the texts in question, which should become a standard in publishing.
The longer I think about it, the more I realize that all of the magazine’s themes are somehow connected. This year, in 2021, language is also particularly relevant for poco.lit. – its dimensions of power, sensitivity for discriminatory expressions and linguistic change. Especially the last one could be understood as a kind of resistance. Have you learned anything from the articles you publish in the magazine? Was there anything that moved you in particular?
That’s right. In fact, I try to connect the magazines in terms of content as well as aesthetics. “You are not alone in this” at the end of the first issue, is echoed on the cover of the second. The last text of issue #2 ends with a call for (linguistic) resistance and the reminder that our very existence is resistance, which became the theme of the third issue after all.
Among other things, I have learned from the contributors that we have a lot in common, for example, with regard to linguistic differences and our feelings about them. And through the contact with authors, illustrators, but also booksellers, I have made many new friends and I value them very much. I learn from them every day and I often pick up the magazines to leaf through them again. (Another reason why I chose print!) I cannot name a favourite text because all of them touch me in different ways. While I was working on the new issue, some texts even made me cry, for example “Du sagst aber nichts” by Bianca Taufall, which is about the death of her little brother. Being allowed to share the experiences of others broadens my mind and I hope that readers will be touched in the same way when they read the magazine.
Positionality is important for the Literarische Diverse magazine
Apart from content, what kind of linguistic aspects do you pay attention to when choosing texts for the magazine?
That’s hard to say. And fortunately, unlike in the first issue, I no longer decide on my own. I get support from Sandra Kućmierczyk and Aleksandra Szczodrowski, with whom I choose the texts that fit best. In the best case, they touch us with the first line and their literary quality stands out from other submissions. I also make sure that BIPoC and LGBTIQ* are represented – that’s a priority. Starting with issue #5, when people submit, they will have to answer a question about their own positionality. It’s important for the magazine, but it sometimes slips people’s minds. (This kind of data is of course confidential and will not be published, it will stay with me). Unfortunately, the magazine only has room for about 30 texts. Sometimes we have to weed out strong texts, simply because of the limited space.
What’s important to me in terms of content, and now I’ll use this interview to say it: It’s also a political decision not to write about one’s own experience of discrimination. Ọlaide Frank has decided against it and she has done so beautifully in her poetry debut “Dunkelkalt”. So, I really want people to know: You can write about anything as long as it relates to the theme of the issue.
It seems like your publishing house is insanely popular – it’s probably not just the open calls that help fill the magazine with content, but also the social media presence. How do you reach your target audience, your community?
I’m glad to hear that! I try my best on social media and stay in touch with people – also privately. I gain so much from the exchange with others. I’m also really looking forward to the release party for the new issue in Berlin, as I haven’t done an event before. I will be seeing people for the first time that I’ve been in contact with for ages. Otherwise, I have hardly any budget for advertising, which is why I’m dependent on recommendations, so all I can do is: keep going and be happy about every new person who gets interested in Literarische Diverse.
What are the challenges you face in your work? What needs to change in the German literary industry in general?
I think the biggest challenge is that I do a lot from home with limited capacities. Above all, financial resources play a big role, and also the factors of time and space. It would be nice to have an office, but the rent prices in Berlin just don’t allow that. The project also takes up a large part of my life and it’s becoming more and more important to take breaks and to draw boundaries – professionally and privately.
I wish the literary industry would understand that the demands for visibility and diversity are not just fun, that they’re not a trend. Rather, it is about being heard. Currently, the white position of power excludes many other lived realities. At the release event of his book Muslimaniac, author and racism researcher Ozan Zakariya Keskinkılıç pointed out that this country seems to be unable to deal with diversity. I absolutely agree. Some days I wonder what the world and my life would be like if we had more time and energy for other things. But running Literarische Diverse also gives me an outlet to create, which is powerful.
Where and when can people buy the next Literarische Diverse issue?
The next issue will be published on October 25 and can be purchased online at www.literarischediverse.de! I will also supply some bookstores, for example Buchhandlung Jakob in Nuremberg, Buchhandlung im Schanzenviertel (Literatur & Politik) in Hamburg or Shesaid, Buchbox and Buchkönigin in Berlin. You can find more info on Instagram or on my website.
Thank you for the interview, dear poco.lit. team!