Eight years ago, starry-eyed and ambitious, the two of us joined the team of a very young magazine called The Suburban Review. We were readers, our job was to read submissions. Eight years later we are the outgoing Deputy Editor and Editor in Chief of TSR, and currently in the process of leaving our magazine baby in a set of capable new hands. It has been eight years of bloody hard work.
This is the last of 20 issues of this magazine that we’ve worked on together. And it’s an incredible issue to go out on because it has given us the chance to talk to each other, to our team, and to the contributors published herein about the true joys of collaboration and working together. But there are lots of hard parts, too. After every issue of TSR, we get together as a team and talk about what worked and what didn’t work, and we try to prepare ourselves and solve our problems so that future issues go more smoothly. We think, ‘Oh, the next issue will be a breeze. We’ll have fixed all our problems, we’ve done this for eight years, we should be able to do this job without even thinking about it.’ But it’s never a breeze, and things always go wrong, and working with people is actually really hard. To lead any sort of artistic project is to be constantly failing, in some manner or other. Or constantly learning, take your pick, spin it how you want. We know how it feels to us, but we’re definitely not our own most charitable critics.
This issue has made us confront the many times over the years when we’ve burnt out. We both finished our Bachelors and did our Masters degrees in the past eight years. We’ve navigated full-time work and dire unemployment. We’ve worked in toxic workplaces and healthy workplaces alongside our tenure at TSR. Working in the arts means being underpaid, and TSR is no different. We’ve fought hard to make our magazine slightly better paid, but it still doesn’t even compare to minimum wage. And our stewardship of TSR has been guided by our understanding of how profoundly wrong and corrupt it is to expect people to work for free.
In a poorly funded arts environment, though, one can’t help but lift up every couch cushion, scour every corner, squeeze every last drop from the budget. (And TSR definitely doesn’t operate on a shoestring budget, we’re fairly ‘rolling in it’ as far as independent literary magazines go.) But something that has taken a long time for us to learn is that the work an artist produces for commission is probably not the best art that they could produce. It’s a shame that artistic production is so often tied to money. As artists, if we could realistically make art outside of the parameters of capitalism, well, it would probably be even better than what we currently make right now. And that’s a really difficult thing to reckon with as a publisher. Those are the limitations of publishing a magazine in our world.
It’s hard not to be pessimistic after eight years in publishing, but we have tried to shift our burnout, our exhaustion, and our pessimism about the state of the arts (and the state of the world) into making sure TSR, at least, is a kind and pleasant workplace. Our day jobs are not within the creative industries, and it’s interesting and insightful to see how things work on the other side. What we’ve learned in eight years is that artists are no more or less special than anyone else. Artists are workers. Our goal, as a community, shouldn’t be to just create equity (of access, of pay, of visibility) in the arts. Our goal should be to systematically improve working conditions for all workers. Even though we are a tiny organisation, this has been our goal. In 2022, we will be almost doubling the rates we pay our contributors and staff. Eight years ago, we didn’t pay anyone at all.
This latest issue of TSR, #22: ORGANISE & MOBILISE, is not just a call to action, but a meditation on the difficulties and struggles we all endure within our labour economy. You’ll read in this issue many narratives of exploitation, of marketised ‘community’ and ‘wellbeing’ being delivered to workers and sold as a guarantee of protection and safety, but which ultimately serves as an insurance policy for the employer. You’ll read of the intergenerational implications of gendered and classist labour, the many ways we take our exploitation home and often reproduce it. But you’ll also encounter beautiful and visionary symbols of hope, fierce and powerful images of solidarity. There is huge potential to learn from the histories of unionism and activism, and we view these narratives and concepts, imagined and re-imagined within these pages, as strategies for the present and as a way to reckon with and mitigate the pessimism we feel.
Unionism is just one way of cultivating democratic community and initiating cultural change. The majority of our society spends most of their lives at work, and as the main organising body for community and change in the workplace, we view the union as a substantial counter to the inherent exploitation of labour which is enforced and monitored across all sectors.
The ORGANISE in #22: ORGANISE & MOBILISE is the grunt work; the small, modest actions taken in a work environment which inform a stronger union and community in the long haul. To organise is to build relationships, to initiate and then continue conversations with your co-workers, peers, and friends. These smaller actions are of equal value and merit to those iconic public actions, and they inform those public actions of mobilisation and power in an integral way.
We hope you, the reader, find something of yourself, and something for yourself in this issue. That you recognise the experiences of alienation and isolation explored, but also identify the agency and criticality demonstrated by our contributors in their works and by our editorial team who have laboured to create this rigorous, vibrant issue. We hope, dear reader, that you will look to those you work alongside and live with as your allies, companions, and comrades, and that this issue of The Suburban Review inspires you to strike up conversation and take action.
Anupama Pilbrow and Zoe Kingsley
(Editor in Chief and Deputy Editor)