The Future of Room
Room changes lives. And when it comes to what the future of Room looks like to me, it’s pretty simple: we need to continue changing lives.
When I published my first book and did interviews with newspapers and other magazines, the number one question I was asked was where I got my MFA. I cringed because I don’t have one, nor have I ever had the urge to take my education to that level, and, let’s be honest, it’s not and never will be financially possible for me. But this questioning about my education made me think about my role in the writing, publishing, and teaching world and how this role would most likely break a few moulds along the way. How do I fit in among the people who—according to every other Canadian literary magazine—should be doing the job I am doing? Every opportunity that has been offered to me came attached with the inevitable question: Can I do this? Yes. And I am doing it.
Because of the serious focus on diversity and mentorship at Room, I decided to jump at the offer of managing editor. In my opinion, I was too inexperienced, but I knew Room’s former managing editor Rachel Thompson would guide me and make sure I was supported. I don’t know many other magazines that operate like this, that take chances like this and say “don’t worry, we’ve got your back, we’ll figure it out.” There’s a trust within Room, and there’s a need to uplift not only the writers we support and publish, but the people that make up this very important collective. This is the real diversity and the first step toward real change. It starts here.
One thing I have come to realize is that we are in a constant tornado of diversity hashtags. Trying to fit in, trying to fill gaps, trying to accommodate, but are we? Are we a literary community providing a safe place for our writers to speak? Are we constantly self-evaluating ourselves and the way we interact with our community? This is where Room shines. We never stop trying, we never stop taking risks and chances on the “unknowns”—I know this for a fact because Room took a chance on me.
Growing up in a single-parent household facing adversity, with a mother who struggled her entire life with addiction, violent abuse, and prostitution, I never felt like I had a safe place to share my story, her story, or any story. The future of Room has space for women like me. Women who’ve come from nothing, and brought more than their fair share to the table.
The future of Room is about providing that safe haven for stories, all stories. From the first decade with Cyndia Cole’s “No Rape. No.” to the fourth decade with Alessandra Naccarato’s “No Comment,” you can see, feel, and hear the necessity for amplifying voices and speaking up. The voices of those who were and are afflicted by physical, emotional, and sexual abuse need to be heard too. We can’t shy away from that. And we haven’t. After over forty years the threads are still connected, holding on tight without the threat of unravelling.
When I first heard about Meghan Bell’s idea for this anthology project a couple of years ago, I was brand new to the collective and had no idea the effect this project would have on me or how important it was until I started reading through the archives. It’s very evident that people trust us as a platform to share stories that are not easy to tell. As a survivor and witness to some very disturbing sexual and violent abuse—something I’ve never had the courage to say out loud until I penned this—I find solace in knowing Room exists and will continue to exist.
Empowered. I feel it every single day. We still have work to do, but when diversity stops being a hashtag and instead becomes a natural instinct, an everyday organic occurrence, I will happily say real progress has been made. I see Room growing in many ways, and this is beyond what we publish. We have always been a place for women’s voices and we can still continue to add to that, but my vision goes above and beyond the pages of Room. I hope that other magazines will mirror our progress. Let’s sit down and have these never-ending conversations. It’s time. There’s room.
—Chelene Knight, December 2016 (originally published in Making Room: Forty Years of Room Magazine)