Unlikely Stories Marx V is the new incarnation of the electronic magazine, Unlikely Stories, which has been published online since 1998. They publish poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction, including firsthand accounts of sociopolitical activism. As well as galleries of visual art, music, spoken word, other forms of aural art, and audiovisual presentations.
I was curious how and why this lit mag began, so I asked founder and Editor Jonathan Penton a few questions to find out. See my interview with Penton and a link to submission guidelines below.
HOPKINSON: Tell me a little bit about Unlikely Stories.
PENTON: Unlikely Stories, now called Unlikely Stories Mark V to note the site’s various redesigns, is a web-journal of poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, visual art, short movies, music, and sociopolitical thought. It does not contain issues, but rather publishes a single “article” 3-5 days a week. An “article” might be a single story, a few poems, a gallery of visual art, or any other single piece of content by a single author or collaborative team. So in some ways it’s structured more like a news magazine, although you cannot get the news from Unlikely Stories Mark V. We will leave it to the reader to determine if you can die miserably every day from lack of what is found there.
Unlikely Stories has spawned a print arm, Unlikely Books, which specializes in full-length collections of poetry, although we also publish books of prose, as well as shorter manuscripts.
HOPKINSON: How/why was Unlikely Stories originally started?
PENTON: The first incarnation of Unlikely Stories was published July 1, 1998. That’s not a typo: we’ve been around more than twenty years.
I was 23 when I founded Unlikely Stories, and had a massive ego, the sort that allowed me to believe that I was experienced and knowledgeable enough to edit a literary magazine. That wasn’t true at the time, though I daresay it’s true now.
But the main truth of the time was that my aesthetic did not exist on the web. I loved neo-pulp and transgressive literary work that did not fall into genre conventions, but rather sought to interact with sex, violence, and other excesses as literary poetry and fiction. I sought to curate what I could not otherwise find.
Today, there are more web-journals that come closer to my personal vision. But just as each writer can develop a unique voice that is uniquely valuable, so can each editor. I believe Unlikely Stories Mark V offers something that can’t quite be found anywhere else. That, ultimately, is my reason for continuing this project that’s consumed so much of my life.
HOPKINSON: Who is your target reader audience?
PENTON: Me. Our Art Director, Leona Strassberg Steiner. Beyond that, I’m always fascinated by the fact that people who don’t think anything like Leona and I often love what we do. We’ve gotten praise from all kinds of writers, artists, and editors: people with visions that seem diametrically opposed to ours. Of course, I often find that I love literature and art that I wouldn’t consider for Unlikely Stories Mark V. Let a hundred flowers bloom, and all that.
HOPKINSON: What type of work are you looking for?
PENTON: Today, I still love transgressive and neo-pulp work, but my vision has expanded to include the experimental, the activist, and the sly. We love Andy Kaufman; we love jokes that aren’t funny. You may laugh, though. We bestow permission.
HOPKINSON: What do you wish you’d see submitted, but rarely comes in?
PENTON: What a great question. As far as subject matter: I wish we saw more firsthand accounts of activism, and interviews with activists. Activism is an important part of our aesthetic, but we mostly hear secondhand accounts of it—I’d love more firsthand stuff.
As far as aesthetically: my favorite feeling, as an editor, is to have literature cross my desk that fills a need that I did not previously know I had. I’ve had the privilege of this happening many times.
HOPKINSON: What are some of your favorite lit mags/journals?
PENTON: There’ve been some great ones! I’m afraid to answer this question since I can’t possibly do it comprehensively. I miss Mad Hatters’ Review, Word Riot, and Hermeneutic Chaos. I like Red Fez, New Verse News, Asymptote, and my friends at Rigorous: a journal by people of color.
HOPKINSON: Where can folks send submissions?
PENTON: Complete guidelines, including relevant e-mail addresses, are at http://www.unlikelystories.org/mission/
HOPKINSON: If someone has a question, how can they contact you?
FORMAT: digitally online
SUBMISSION FEE: None
FORMS: poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction, including firsthand accounts of sociopolitical activism, galleries of visual art, music, spoken word, other forms of aural art, and audiovisual presentations