Amy McDaniel is a fiction writer, essayist, and poet in Atlanta, Georgia, where she runs 421 Atlanta, a chapbook press and center of literary attention. She and co-founder Adam Robinson recently launched Real Pants, a literary website with the tagline literature and the new literary community. Last week, I interviewed Adam on the Real Pants launch. This week, I talked with Amy, Real Pants’ editor-in-chief, about the website’s editorial vision, the state of the literary community, and more.
Asta: Tell us how you and Adam Robinson came to start Real Pants.
Amy: As Adam hints at in his interview, I was skeptical. Like what would it be? And why? The first thing I really caught onto was Adam’s idea of having contributors sign on to a “beat,” some topic that they covered regularly, without too long of a commitment, to prevent them from feeling overburdened. Then things happened fast. We talked and talked, and, from Adam’s original idea for a site, our shared vision began to take shape. We started emailing possible contributors, and their enthusiasm and energy made it real. Real Pants!
Asta: How did you and Adam meet? How did you decide to work together on Real Pants?
Amy: Starting in 2009, Adam and I both wrote for HTMLGiant.com and crossed paths a few times, but it wasn’t until an HTMLGiant contributors’ party in New Orleans in 2013 that we majorly connected. Things progressed swiftly and sweetly from there, from long-distance love to cohabitation within a year. So, maybe because we admired each other’s work from afar before we met IRL, we’ve always sought each other’s opinions and advice about work and writing stuff. It’s been a beautiful dimension of our relationship. Our interests and values overlap, but we each bring distinct perspectives and skills to bear on what we’re doing. Like, he designs the chapbooks that my press publishes, and I tell him to charge more as a publishing consultant. Making a big thing together, this whole website with writers and advertisers and readers, is easy, natural, and right.
Asta: What is the “new literary community”?
Amy: There’s a lot, first of all, that the new literary community isn’t. It isn’t a group of writers who hang out and review one another’s books and crash on one other’s couches and follow the same people on social media, and maybe they all dig the Dirty Projectors and wear hoodies. That’s a scene. I’ve participated in the indie lit scene, or at least various incarnations of that, and, great, cool party. I love parties! I’m throwing one this weekend for the launch of Real Pants. So, we’re on the scene. We run Scene Reports that survey the literary landscape of a given city (so far, Buenos Aires, Austin, and Tuscaloosa).
But community is something else, though it may at times overlap with a scene. Community means sharing values and a sense of purpose. Barry Lopez says that as artists we “draw in mysterious ways on the courtesy and genius of the community,” and that it’s “by looking to one another, by attending to the responsibilities of maintaining good relations in whatever we do, that communities turn a gathering darkness into light.” It is mysterious. It’s nebulous–what are those values, and who is part of the community? There are no club meetings or membership cards in literary community. Maybe the “new” part of “new literary community” refers to a new consciousness of what feeds us and what drives us–a kind of radical aliveness toward one another and to what we hold dear. My hopes for Real Pants are that we recognize and honor the people and the energy that sustains us, amplify a multiplicity of voices, and exercise thought and care in what we publish and make visible.
And we hope to invite conversation. We asked Natalia Castells-Esquivel, who runs a project in Atlanta called StoryDrop, to be our Community Engagement Editor, and she’s eager to get discussions going in the comments section and elsewhere on the site.
Asta: In addition to more traditional categories such as audio/visual and publishing, Real Pants features beats about food and craft. As a foodie and quilter, I dig this. How did you decide on your beats categories?
Amy: The categories came after the beats, and the beats came from conversations with each contributor about what they’d like to write for Real Pants. The Food category is especially close to my heart. Very early on, before we settled on a name for the website, I asked Kristen Iskandrian to be our Food Editor. She and I had talked for years about collaborating on some kind of food and books site, and Real Pants turned out to be a good home for that. Another favorite of mine is Civics. That’s where Scene Reports are housed, as well as any Point | Counterpoints that we do (starting with Adam and JD Scott’s debate about reading from smartphones), and Amber Sparks’ very smart beat, The Long View, on politics, literature, and history. It was cool to figure out how to form clusters of the beats that we’d assembled.
Asta: What kind of content are you looking for on Real Pants? How does it fit into the larger mission or vision for the website?
Amy: Wit used to be a much roomier term for intelligence, encompassing understanding, good sense, consciousness, intellect, and humor. Vision, too–think of witness. So I want content that shows great wit, in this expansive sense. Something that’s worth our attention. Everything should intersect somehow with literature and the arts. Elisa Gabbert’s beat, Style Guide, connects fashion in clothing to fashion in literature, and Leesa Cross-Smith’s beat, Line Drive, ricochets from baseball to knitting to Maeve Binchy, but it’s always about words and lines and stories.
Right now, I’m not looking for new beats or new beat writers, but I am looking for crackerjack ideas for stand-alone features and articles.
Asta: Can you recommend any books, new journals, or websites to us and our readers?
Amy: Sure thing! Read LaineyGossip.com. It’s my secret model for Real Pants. Elaine Lui talks about celebrity scandal and fashion, and we talk about books and publishing (Lainey Gossip does have a whole Books category right up top, covering everything from Divergent to Bad Feminist, so she’s not not writing about books). We’re doing something pretty different, but Lainey Gossip is literate, readable, funny, and cognizant of (though not centered around) feminism and intersectionality. I check it every day, not to find out what Jennifer Aniston’s been doing, but to find out what Elaine Lui has to say about it. I want that at Real Pants–you may not buy the book we’re talking about, but you still want to join the conversation.