Six Questions With Mallory Smart (Maudlin House)

We’re back with another SixQuestionSaturday! In this episode, contributing editor & Choir member William James sits down with Maudlin House founder Mallory Smart.


WJ: First things first, let’s talk about the history of Maudlin House. How did you get started, and what did the early days of the journal look like? Was it always staffed by multiple editors, or did you start out as a solo operation? What was it that made you decide to start another literary journal, and what do you think Maudlin House brings to the table – now, or even in the beginning – that was missing from the literary community beforehand?

MS: Maudlin House started with me and my MacBook at Starbucks. I was just at the beginning of my trying to be writer. In fact, when I started the site I think I had only been published once, and after some time I actually had that publisher take it down because I was shy, dorky, and embarrassed about the poetry I had written. I had absolutely no credibility or mandate to create Maudlin House. All I remember is going through the grind and submitting to literary magazines and being really annoyed with the chaotic sites and ridiculous response times.

When I started it as a solo operation, tweaking on coffee and taking serious advantage of my Starbucks gold member status, I had no clear vision of what I wanted Maudlin to be. So I just figured that out as I went. My biggest concern was that I wouldn’t get any submissions, but ended up not being a problem at all. The community really helped to shape Maudlin and help define it as the experimental literary temper tantrum that it is today. As my workload got heavier, my boyfriend Bulent came on to shoulder some of it. We started to think longterm and began taking on more editors to handle the increasing amount of responsibility it takes to run Maudlin and keep it weird (shout outs to Rachel and Erin).

As we go on we hope to remain that way. We aim to constantly be the go-to source for cutting edge and experimental writing in the literary community. That’s what we bring to the table. We bring the strange, exotic, and funky looking fruit that no one else has tasted (with hardcore minimalist design).

WJ: Now that you’ve been around a while, let’s take advantage of the benefit of hindsight. What are some things you learned in the growing process that changed the way you do things? What have you learned as an editor of a journal that gives you further insight as a writer? Is there anything that looking back, you’d do differently? 

MS: I’ve learned so much actually! Especially as a writer. I know what kind of cover letters editors care about and which don’t. I’ve learned that the best thing a writer can do is transmit their energy as fast as possible in a piece.

I’ve learned to become a little more detach from the process and to not take it personally when my work is rejected. Editors are seriously doing the best they can and they don’t deserve the flack that so many people give them.

I’m not sure there’s much I’d do much differently as a press. I’d spend less time obsessing over what we should be and more time just being us. We’ve had a lot of missteps where we’ve tried to be everything at once, and now I think we’ve become more focused.

WJ: Last year when I submitted my own work, one of the things that drew me to Maudlin House was how gorgeous the physical presentation was. You’ve since done a site redesign, but there’s still a rather sharp & impressive aesthetic to the journal. How important was this to you when you started, and how important does it remain as Maudlin House continues to grow?

MS: Visual aesthetic has always been a top priority of mine. But that’s translated to different things throughout the years. The original incarnation of Maudlin House was based off of a few years of being an Apple nerd and hearing Jony Ive talk about beauty in simplicity and saying sexy words like “aloo-min-yoom”. I wanted Maudlin House to be that sexy! Even today I want Maudlin House to be so sexy that Jony Ive stumbles across our site and narrates every single little thing on it. That’s my main dream in life. I’m hooked on minimalism and am still getting really into Dieter Rams and his 10 Principles of Good Design. A lot of other sites just have completely unnecessary elements to them technically that provide no advantage to the readers who just want to get straight to the literature!

But as we grew, the kind of bare bones simplicity we once had was no longer applicable to what we were doing. We needed more functionality so that we could serve up a much more diverse gamut of lit and all things related to our readers. That and we were making the transition towards being a press, which we are now (yay!). As we change and grow though, the soul of Maudlin House will always be raw and low on frills.

WJ: I’m really interested in the option for readers to tip contributors for work they may have enjoyed a little more than average. How did that come into the picture? And have people actually started taking advantage of the chance to tip the authors of work they enjoy?

MS: I’m so glad you brought that up! We had been kicking ourselves trying to find a way to pay authors for the work that they contribute, but couldn’t find a sustainable way to do that right now. So for the interim we leave it up to the readers to contribute as they will. And we do encourage readers to do so as much as possible. We have had a quite a few tips and the authors always love it. It’s not only a way for authors to be paid for their work, but for a reader to say “hey this piece was especially awesome”.

WJ: I’ve been thinking a lot recently about our responsibilities as writers & as curators, especially in light of some of the heinous & outright offensive things that have happened within the literary community; think Calvin Trillian in The New Yorker, or Michael Derrick Hudson in Best American Poetry. I’m wondering what you think is our role as editors in the literary community, and what steps can we take to ensure that we’re not contributing to the continued marginalization of certain voices? For that matter, what can we do as writers? How can we be good literary citizens, both as curators and creators?

MS: I’m honestly just shocked that those pieces ran. It seriously makes me question what goes into thought processes of other publishers. As editors and publishers, it is our duty to act as the marketer and curator of the works we get submitted to us. And that sometimes means censoring and shutting out voices that are harmful. It is imperative to show bias towards pieces that are from more marginalized voices because they are being shut out from everywhere else. It’s our job to build those voices up, so that they have equal footing. As of right now Maudlin House has been combating this issue with a Blind Submissions policy, but we will be moving away from that within the next month. I’d like Maudlin House to take greater responsibility in finding and curating diverse voices in the community.

As for being a good literary citizen, as curators and creators, I’d say just don’t be an asshole. If your piece is blocking out other people’s experiences, or tokenizing them then it is not good. If a piece is sexist, racist, or bigoted in anyway then don’t even bother. I know that at times it’s hard to draw that line between being artistic and being an asshole. But I think those things I just listed should just be common sense. We do not live in a post-sexist or post-racist society. Winning Marriage Equality has not wiped out bigotry and homophobia from our world. These things are very much alive and sadly thriving. But it is our job to fight that. Even if that just means not running a piece that sounds faintly racist, or shutting down toxicity in the community. These things really do go a long way.

WJ: Let’s say I’m an emerging writer looking to submit work to Maudlin House for the first time. What are some suggestions you have, outside of what’s listed in your submission guidelines? What sort of things are likely to land me on top of the “automatically reject” pile that I should avoid?

MS: As Gary Vaynerchuk will always tell everyone who is aspiring to be great in their field, “DO YOU.” We get a lot of submissions where the writer doesn’t seem to be doing that. They’re writing what they think we want, or what they think the literary community wants. It’s important for writers to have the self-awareness to find their own voice and excel at it. It really shows when they do.

Pieces I automatically reject, see the question above.

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Mallory Smart is a Chicago-based writer who likes coffee and cats.
Follow her weirdness on Twitter and Snapchat: @malsmart




author photo William James is a poet, aging punk rocker, & train enthusiast from Manchester,  NH.  His poems can be found in various journals, anthologies, and punk zines, but are most easily accessible at Catch up  with him on Twitter  @thebilljim


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