Spellbinder x The Red Megaphone Collab

Spellbinder and The Red Megaphone are volunteer-run publications created by creatives for creatives. We invite anyone to join our innovative and international artistic conversation. Join us as we discuss the challenges our founders face in the digital sphere, including staying authentic and maintaining quality in a saturated industry.

Almost two years after our first ever Spellchats episode, we have revived our podcast channel with this special collaborative episode. Our hosts, Doriana Dyakova and Ashlynn Zheng, interview Spellbinder founders, Editor-in-Chief Amber Kennedy and Nonfiction Editor Linda Arrighi, as well as The Red Megaphone founder, Parishka Gupta.


DD: This our much-awaited interview with The Red Megaphone and our (Spellbinder) founders. I’m so excited to ask all these questions that we’ve taken so long to compile and refine, and to hear everybody’s diverse and individual viewpoints… So, without further ado, Ashlynn, fire away!

AZ: Hello, everybody. Welcome back. I think we can kick off with some introductions; talk to us a little about what you do personally, what you do for the publication…?

AK: I’m Amber, the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Spellbinder Literary and Art Quarterly. I specialize mostly in the poetry section, and I also organize events and coordinate things like the blog, the podcast and the newsletter. When I’m not volunteering for Spellbinder, I’m working full time in the sales department for a big publishing company.

LA: Hi everyone, my name is Linda, I’m another co-founder alongside Amber. I also edit the non-fiction section. In terms of other roles within Spellbinder, I manage the social media channels and I’m responsible for more of the graphic side of things. Outside of Spellbinder, I’m currently a PhD student in psychology.

PG: Hi guys, my name is Parishka. I am the founder of the Red Megaphone. The Red Megaphone is an organization dedicated to fostering creativity and empowering artists. This was initially a publishing platform back when I was somewhere in 11th grade and I realized that everyone could be a writer. So, from that direction, we started publishing people and then we broadened that into the fact that everyone can be an artist. Our platform connects artists with resources, and opportunities for collaboration, and we offer support in marketing and branding, allowing them to showcase their work to a wider audience. We do a bunch of workshops, events, partnerships with amazing magazines like yours, and even with literature societies all across colleges. Ultimately, we are building this community for creatives who are inspired to express themselves freely and redefine the boundaries of artistic expression. It has become a nice little community of artists now and it has been my joy, the joy of my life, heading this entire thing. Speaking for myself, I am a final-year journalism student, and I’ll be starting my MBA in a few months. 

AZ: Great, you hit the nail on the head with the word ‘mission’.  I think the question to ask is why did all of you begin your publications and from that, what did you feel was missing that we could provide for the community?

AK: I think it’s a really lovely story that I like reminiscing on – the beginnings and origins of Spellbinder. Essentially, we were a group of students at Durham University and we all really enjoyed creative writing; we were part of the Creative Writing Society, of which I was the president at the time. We created such a wonderful community out of this that when the pandemic hit the world, we wanted to maintain it, to create something bigger.  There was a commitment from the very beginning to providing a platform for emerging writers because we ourselves were emerging writers, and we know how hard it is to get your voice listened to in the literary and art worlds. When we established this publication, we had no idea whether it would be successful or not, but it was a kind of experiment and I hope I can speak for everyone on the team when I say that it really has been truly amazing and surprising to see the level of engagement we have had.

AZ: Yeah, I think that is wonderful. You mentioned this community and society at your university, I would love to hear from Linda on this too…

LA: I think we really wanted to create something that was accessible for people, so that they could feel like the website was easy to use and easy to submit work to. We wanted to create a magazine and a community where there were no requirements of who could submit and a platform that didn’t feel pretentious. Because, after all, we were also just students, we felt like we couldn’t be part of some of the more popular magazines.  Instead, we wanted to create a community where everyone could take part. 

PG: I started thinking about this when I was submitting to this place online, and they had way too many requirements. It had to be of a specific word limit; I had to reformat the entire thing; I had to alter my work for every publication which I didn’t feel was right. I decided that TRM would be the kind of place that accepted everyone as writers. That was the basic premise: that you are a writer way before you even know it. It doesn’t have to be a categorized thing, where you must follow a specific form or routine to be a writer. The best part about this is that it started bringing out the writer in everyone… They had all been doing it in different forms for such a long time, but because they never really put themselves out there, they never really knew about it. As a founder, my first thought was, no one’s going to do it. Right? Why would anyone come to me and get their stuff published? But then, when we started delivering this form of creative freedom, we saw that there were so many takers out there. 

DD: Are there any specific stories or cases in your personal experiences? I think you’ve touched on it a little bit as students – that have led you to create this space for literary showcase and conversation, which can be quite subversive, with you being so young and leading this so actively…

AK: The Creative Writing Group was a key starting point for me, but this wasn’t my only experience of being part of a group of people who all shared the same passion for writing. I’d had this from a very early age in various writing groups, which I’d been the leader and member of. I also did my master’s in creative writing and all the seminars had the same kind of discussion element and collaboration process. Drawing from all these experiences, what I found was that you learn so much from your peers; they’re vital for inspiration, but also for providing that genuinely constructive criticism, which can challenge you to become better. I think writing is a very solitary activity, so you do need to actively search for other people to help you grow. As a writer, you cannot do it solely in a room locked away; I think having this awareness of the power of groups and community was a huge driving force for me when it comes to Spellbinder.

DD: Absolutely. And I do think an academic setting is a very exclusive setting. Sometimes the people that you meet are even more influential than your actual designated academic supervisor. You don’t necessarily have to do creative writing or literature to get involved.  Linda started off with neuroscience, so I’m really interested in how you got around this. 

LA: I’ve always been passionate in terms of reading and writing as a hobby. It’s always been a great source of escapism and catharsis for me as well. So, I think the reason why I thought that it would be great to be involved with something like Spellbinder is just because I thought, I’m always reading and writing on my own, but how could I make it into more of a creative project on the side that fulfills me? I thought Spellbinder was a chance to do something useful that could be helpful for others. I thought maybe I can offer what I was missing when I was just reading and writing alone – a space to interact with others who also have the same passions.

DD: Absolutely. I’m really interested in how Parishka has made this work in an entirely different setting, I’m assuming, structurally, from where we went to uni. In terms of finding that community and involving yourself personally, what was available?  I’m looking for specific cases, stories, you know, ‘the tea’ that led to writing, what made it cathartic? 

PG: How did I start writing? Somewhere in third grade. I did my third grade in Germany. I was there for a whole year. I was at the International School of Frankfurt. we all just had this one favorite English teacher. There’s is always this one English teacher who believes in you so much that you thought-  this is something that I cannot just keep to myself;  I won’t be doing justice to what I’ve just created right?

DD: Exactly. We all have those absolute icons at school.

PG: Right now, I would like to thank every single English teacher that I’ve had in every single school who constantly reinforce the idea that yes, writing is definitely a skill, a talent, especially in India. Now, the stereotypes, I will always call them out. We have our parents telling us to go into science, go into medicine; that we will go into them only if we want to go into them is something that they don’t really understand…there is societal pressure and peer pressure that you have to keep up with. Some people have amazing people in their own families, and they must live up to those expectations. Highly accomplished parents – amazing. I was great at school for some reason, and they were proud of me and assigned me a conventional path.  They failed to notice this small stream of writing that was always running by my side and one day, I decided that this was going to be my life. That’s the way I feel when I write, no one, no person, no place, no other activity can make me feel this way.

AZ: Yeah, I agree. I feel like nowadays we have the advantage of having a digital way of spreading information and sharing our craft. There are so many publications that are starting to branch out, you know, into digital formats as well. 

PG: Right? But when it comes to writing, I still haven’t mentally transitioned from print to digital. My first love was the glossy magazines that I grew up reading- travel magazines, travel and leisure. I was in love with that kind of stuff. I want that photograph with a Fedora right now. It was like that.

DD: In glorious Technicolor.

PG: That’s another reason at TRM, we make it a very important point to maintain the quality of print in digital.

AZ: I think Parishka has a good point, there is this sort of conflict with the transition to digital. I think there is something to be said about how the journals play in our respective communities as well, both on a digital, but on a local level as well…

AK: Yes, I think technology is very present in our contemporary lives. I think it’s necessary to capitalize on it and see what you can do with it for the benefit of others. Making an international magazine is very much dependent on technology because you can’t have that global reach without it.  We’ve continued to develop on that at Spellbinder and use the technology available to have this international platform- this aspect is at the very core of what we’ve tried to create. What we want to do is provide a space for a diverse range of voices, and that only happens if you’re open to exchange on an international level.  Art and literature are beyond borders, so we should enjoy this space of collaboration and celebration of the arts on an international scale.

AZ: Yeah, I think that is a discussion that we should be having more nowadays about how we are branching out in diversity and being more international with our audience and our community. Linda, what do you think?

LA: I think the fact that we are an online as well as print magazine helps us because we are able to keep a space of positivity and are able to continue celebrating the successes of our writers and artists by keeping in touch with them after publication. Essentially, we want a continuous exchange because one of the main reasons we started the magazine was to give back to contributors; their first act of sending their work was a gift to us. 

DD: Yes, it’s a very vulnerable act.

AZ: Yes, well said! But Parishka, what do you think about that, especially since you might have a very different experience compared to us?

PG: We start with the very idea that creativity is not something that is just a quality in a single person, right? It’s something that brings people together, something that makes communities. The best part about TRM is that we started building a community for creative people. Through that process we realized that every person is creative- man has been creating since the dawn of time. When there was absolutely nothing, what were they doing? Making stuff. Now, just because we have everything around us in the palm of our hands, we think that we don’t really have anything much left to do-I don’t think that’s how it works. We are constantly propagating the idea that you just need to do something, whatever you like, but believe in it. Our content, in lieu of this, is something I have finalized as a journalism student, after working in media outlets, and after consuming a lot of digital as well as print media… I decided that we need somewhat of a middle ground, right? In the media, the smallest thing that happens is splashed over our screens, our papers- it’s everywhere immediately. It can lose context, it can lose authenticity, and the quality goes down drastically. 

DD: Yeah, it’s disheartening.  It is for everyone who’s working in this industry, both as an editor and as a creative, because it’s more about output, consistent output…

PG: Absolutely. It’s the tone that makes it different, it’s the language used…It’s the very, very small differences that completely alter the actual path of what had actually happened. The best part about our content is that we will not tell you what to think – we will tell you what has happened- just the plain facts… Apparently that’s what media is supposed to do – the textbook definition of journalism.

DD: Of course, we all struggle with this and I think it feels hopeless because whatever you say, you have to redact. I think that culture of immediacy is toxic to writers putting things forward. You’ve really gotten to the core of why we do this, the start of creativity, the place to breathe. 

PG: Exactly. We’re always exhausted.

DD: Independent publications are the torchbearers for what people really want to say, what comes out authentically. So I want to open this question up to our founders and you again, why do you think it’s so important that this collaboration between our two journals happens, because not many journals or podcasts publicize the conversations like this; you don’t know what’s going on with the design behind the scenes;  you don’t know who the people behind this editing process are…

AK: A big part of what we’re trying to achieve is accessibility.  I think if we’re inviting people to join conversations, to collaborate, to work together to create spaces of creativity, then we must do it on our level as well – the level of editors and other team members on the publication. Collaboration is exciting for us, something that represents everything that we are trying to achieve. It’s a way of showing people the face behind the emails, to say look: we’re going to publish your work, we were delighted that you gifted us with your poetry, your play- you can hear our voices; you can hear our thoughts; you can understand what we’re trying to accomplish. That creates a more personal experience for our contributors. And that’s something that’s important to me and I think to everyone on the team because we know what it’s like, how brave you must be to put your work out there. If we can create a more homely experience, a welcoming one, that is what we aim for. 

LA: I think it’s important  for the people that follow us on social media and submit to to be able to relate to us and think of us as equal to them. I think talking about the behind the scenes is important because it shows that we’re always open to share the success of Spellbinder, that we’re open to tell people what our ideas are, what our reasoning is behind everything,  so that we can be a community that is based on equality, which is one of the main aspects of the magazine.

DD: Absolutely. And Parishka, how is this collaboration working out for you in terms of publicizing it? 

PG: Even pre-recording this podcast, I know I’ve learned a lot. This cross-culture thing is something that I’ve been personally waiting for for a long time. You guys have two founders. That’s great because you have each other to remind yourselves why you started this in the first place- you have good days, and you have bad days.  Sometimes I feel like I am completely alone in this, but when I see people such as yourselves working on similar projects, I feel that yeah, maybe it’s not so bad after all…

DD: Yeah, I think we feel the same as well. I mean, it’s fantastic that you reached out and responded so positively… 

PG: Yes, and answering all these questions helps to remind myself why I started this in the first place, why I need to keep going. 

AZ: Yeah, I love that. Thank you so much to all of you for your really beautiful contributions and your answers. It has been so wonderful to have this conversation with all of you and to have this little moment to share with everyone else. Thank you so much to everyone for listening in and we will be back sometime soon with the next one.

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