British-Asian writer, Selma Carvalho, has published fiction and non-fiction that explores themes of diaspora migration, memory and belonging. She is the founding editor of The Joao Roque literary journal, which publishes Goa-centric writing in English.
Author Jessica Faleiro has an MA in Creative Writing from Kingston University, UK and runs creative writing workshops. She recently interviewed Selma to tell us more about foundation, inner workings and challenges of setting up and running the only ‘Goan’ literary journal in English.
Hi Selma. Thanks for agreeing to this brief interview. Could you start off by telling us about the idea behind the birth of the Joao Roque literary journal?
I’d been toying with the idea of creating a literary platform for Goa-centric writing, for a long time, so on 1 January, 2017, poet Rochelle Potkar and I took the plunge. Living in London, I felt I had opportunities to see my work published by literary journals as well as compete in competitions but similar pathways did not exist in abundance in Goa. Nothing propels a writer to write as much as the possibility of finding a platform and a readership for their writing. The goals of this journal include motivating, mentoring and rewarding Goan writing, giving a voice to sexual and gender minorities, promoting work in translation, supporting secular values, and creating a community of diasporic Goan writers.
Tell us about the all-woman team behind the journal. Was it an intentional choice to pick women editors?
No, it just worked out that an all-women team currently holds the editorial positions. Perhaps it’s because women generally are more giving of their labour and time? We publish short fiction, poetry and literary non-fiction, whose genres include biography, memoir, author and artist interviews, and critical reviews. Poetry editor, Rochelle Potkar, solicits poetry and we’ve had the privilege of publishing some of India’s premier poets. Jugneeta Sudan is a fine art critic and does all the art review. And as the commissioning editor, you yourself solicit work from writers of interest as well as contribute original pieces of writing.
The editors pitch ideas to me and they are so good, I rarely have to turn down ideas. I’m partial to beautiful language and extremely fussy about what we eventually publish. I’m enticed by style but generally where there is style, there is also substance. People who possess literary style have spent a long time learning their craft and reading other writers, acquiring knowledge and forming worthwhile opinions.
Even in the best of economic times, it is challenging to keep a journal running. How do you manage?
It’s very difficult, actually. I genuinely did believe more interested parties would step up to support a journal of this nature. It is, for the moment at least, the only serious literary journal in English in Goa. I thought partnerships would form across shared interests, with Goan publishers, booksellers, newspapers, learning institutions, etc. After all, the journal supports Goa books by reviewing them and disseminating availability information. Sadly, nothing was forthcoming. I think in Goa, everyone works in isolation when much can be achieved through collaboration. Because I live in London, perhaps I’m seen as an outsider.
We have a donate button too on the website, and I can count on one hand the number of people who’ve donated money. Even diaspora Goans who will think nothing of spending hundreds of dollars or pounds each year on their Goa festivals and dances, will not spare £10 to keep a literary journal running. Currently, the entire cost of running the journal is borne by me. (I must qualify this by adding that a few people did make donations to the annual prize).
How much time would you say it takes to keep this journal going?
It takes an enormous amount of time, energy and patience to keep the journal afloat. First, there’s the task of reading the submissions that come in and deciding whether they are a good fit for the journal. Next, comes the arduous work of copy editing the writing, liaising with the writer to ensure they are in agreement with the edits made, and finally formatting it onto the website, and marketing it to a larger audience.
I tend to the journal whenever I have a free moment, and it provides me with a break from my own writing schedule. But at the end of the day, it is a labour of love and requires a great deal of discipline to keep going.
Tell us what’s worked well with the journal and what hasn’t worked well?
The most reassuring aspect of the journal has been the readership it has acquired particularly in Canada, UK and Goa. Often, I receive letters telling me how they’d stumbled on the website and found it to be a trove of information. We curate and develop original pieces of work, offering a platform to longform writing and the freedom to express complex, perhaps even controversial views. A journal of this sort is welcomed, particularly, within the Goan diaspora community.
Unfortunately, what I discovered was that there just aren’t enough Goans writing seriously, and if they are, they don’t quite appreciate the value of contributing to a journal. There are aspiring writers in Goa, but they seem hesitant to put in the hard work required of aspiring writers. Or they are waiting for that one big publishing break to come. Instead, they should be out there producing reviews, interviews, short stories, plays, poems, sharpening their craft and creating a body of work. We struggle to find quality submissions which makes running the journal really difficult.
What do you think the journal has achieved so far?
Surprisingly, the journal has achieved so much in its four-year run: We’ve published two print anthologies, the series is acquired by the Fundação Oriente Goa, who now acts as a repository. These anthologies are also deposited at the Goa Central Library. We’ve had cash awards, creative writing workshops, and a wide readership which is grateful that a journal of this sort exists. We’ve been able to publish works which led to wider recognition for the writer, we’ve reviewed Goa published books giving them more visibility, (sometimes the Joao Roque Literary Journal review will be the only review a Goa published book receives), we’ve nominated our best writers to other awards such as the Pushcart Prize, we’ve made popular Goan writing in Portuguese and Konkani translated into English, and we’ve introduced writers of the diaspora to each other.
It would be good if we could carry on but it is not a burden a single person can carry for too long, neither financially nor in terms of the dedication and vision required.
What advice would you give to someone seriously thinking of starting their own journal?
My only advice to anyone thinking of starting a journal would be to seek funding before they start. Funding is key. Email here to get in touch.