When digital literary magazine the Offing was launched last year as a channel of the Los Angeles Review of Books, the literary nonprofit reviews journal, it was received with excitement from the writing and publishing communities. The outlet dedicated itself to actively seeking new writers and supporting work by and about marginalized groups, including the LGBTQ community, people of color, and the disabled. Run by an all-volunteer staff yet committed to paying its authors, it was attached to a respected brand and boasted an advisory board that included Richard Nash and Molly Ringwald.
A little over a year later, the mission remains the same, even as its circumstances have changed. In May, the Offing published an essay by its former “Dead Letter Office” editor, Casey Rocheteau, called “Literary Juneteenth (or Why I Left the Offing).” The piece detailed Rocheteau’s falling out with the magazine after then-editor-in-chief Darcy Cosper sent a tweet that Rocheteau viewed as disrespectful. Cosper approved the piece’s publication, but she resigned before it ran; the Offing’s new editor-in-chief, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, made that clear in her editorial debut, an introduction to Rocheteau’s piece.
“I know that Casey has obviously created a lot of discussion, and quite a spike on our server,” Prescod-Weinstein said. “That’s exactly what we were hoping for. There were a few people who said: ‘This is risky. Why are you publishing an essay that is self-critical?’ ” Her answer: “Accountability is very important. This is part of what I would call ‘doing The Work’—capital T, capital W.”
Prescod-Weinstein’s appointment heralds a change for the Offing, one she will develop this summer (during a submission hiatus) and implement on September 1. Prescod-Weinstein’s leadership is the beginning of those changes. A self-described “Black Jewish queer agender/cissex female of working-class and immigrant origin,” she wrote in her preface to Rocheteau’s piece that she understands “in a deeply personal way why it is important for Casey Rocheteau’s voice to be heard at this moment.” As such, her place at the top of a diverse masthead at a magazine dedicated to diversity seems to put the Offing’s proverbial money where its mouth is.
“I think that we are showing that you don’t have to compromise on quality in order to get diversity,” Prescod-Weinstein, an avowed “Offing fangirl,” said. “I think that is garbage, and I think we’re proof that that is garbage.”
The magazine’s numbers support its editor-in-chief’s confidence. The Offing averaged 1,000 hits per day during the spring, or 30,000 per month, but after the publication of “Literary Juneteenth” on May 18, readership rocketed to 2,300 visitors per day, and the site was visited 70,000 times during the month of May.
The role of editor-in-chief is not the only line on the masthead to have changed—outgoing executive managing editor Zach Mann will be replaced by Andrea García-Vargas, previously the senior managing editor, and Mahogany Browne, editor of the Offing’s “Micro” section since the fall of 2015, was named executive editor earlier this year. Browne said that if all the changes work as planned, by the magazine’s second anniversary next year the Offing will be“at the forefront of cutting edge literary work” and “the first portal you turn to when you get onto the Internet.”
But to get there, the magazine, newly independent of the Los Angeles Review of Books, must shore up its infrastructure, meaning a summer of fund-raising is in order. The outlet pays its writers already but would like to pay them more, and compensating its editors is another goal. “The fund-raising is going to be huge this summer,” García-Vargas said. “It’s the big thing we’re focusing on.”
García-Vargas, who was brought aboard recently and considers Prescod-Weinstein a friend, holds a day job as an audience-development coordinator at Discovery Communications in San Francisco, and she plans to use her connections in the tech industry to help with the push for funds. After that, she hopes to boost the Offing’s Web traffic by amping up its social media efforts and helping to give the site a face-lift. “I’m very interested in trying to make sure that the website on mobile is looking way, way, way better,” she said.
On the editorial side, a science section—tentatively titled “Doppler Affect”—is in the works, courtesy of Prescod-Weinstein, a cosmologist with a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Waterloo. “I want to return to the idea that the basic sciences are in the liberal arts,” she said.
But most important, still, is what Prescod-Weinstein calls “The Work” of maintaining a space for voices of all backgrounds, backed by an editorial board that champions the diversity—and courage—of budding writers.
“I am a very holistic intersectional thinker, which serves me very well as a theoretical physicist,” Prescod-Weinstein said. “Those two things are inseparable. If we want to talk about pushing the literary form forward, and we want to do it in a way that’s truly broad, then we have to talk about racism. We have to talk about sexism. We have to talk about attitudes against transgender people. [If we don’t,] we are just missing out on beautiful work.”
This article has been updated for clarity.