Monday, January 28, 2013

TCR Literary Journals Series: aaduna

The Committee Room is pleased to continue its TCR Literary Journals Series with a look at aaduna, an independent, exclusively online publication founded in 2010 and based in the historic central New York community of Auburn.

Aaduna takes its name from the phrase "aaduna si dofa rey" meaning "the world is huge" in the Wolof language spoken in Senegal, Mauritania, and The Gambia. The use of lower case letters in aaduna's name reflects a sense of humility which seeks to serve, strengthen and empower. Its logo, which can be seen as a single face or as two side portraits, is based on a Southeast Asian woodcarving and represents the idea that the world's people may be distinct but ultimately share a common and universal humanity. The joined hands in the logo refer to aaduna's spirit of collegiality and teamwork.

With a stated mission that includes uncovering new and emerging talent, especially people of color, aaduna works toward building relationships with the writers and artists whose work it presents and provides ongoing support and promotion. High among aaduna's objectives is to narrow the distance between the audience and the creative person.

Aaduna publishes three issues annually -- fall, winter/spring, and summer. The blog aaduna notes offers additional material to help keep readers informed about aaduna sponsored events such as art exhibitions and poetry readings in Auburn and elsewhere.

William E. Berry, Jr., an activist and educator, is aaduna's founder, publisher and CEO. Mr. Berry recently took time out of his busy schedule to converse electronically with TCR.

TCR Talks with Bill Berry, Jr., publisher of aaduna

Bill Berry, Jr.
Q: What made you want to start aaduna?
A: Prior to aaduna, I contributed to the start-up of another online literary endeavor. Without going into details, once that initiative germinated with success that entity started to drift towards the status quo in terms of publication decisions, literary direction and overall philosophical treatment of writers. The founding purpose and characteristic to be a “change agent” was submerged beyond resurrection. The need to be accepted as “legitimate” began to permeate the organization and its thinking, and that unexpected development led me to re-think my involvement...What we do [at aaduna] is ultimately planned change that seeks to expand access to opportunities; create level playing fields for advancement [and provide] equitable treatment regardless of where the artist finds herself/himself on the artistic plateau, and a verifiable commitment to professional development. I want to bring and add new voices to the literary landscape. I want the public to reassess what is considered to be art without some critic, gallery owner or art educator dictating what art is. For me, aaduna is a continuation of my penchant for education and life-long learning

aaduna reading at the Seward House Museum, Auburn,
New York (photo by Lisa Brennan)
Q: In aaduna's mission statement it says aaduna is looking for artists and writers "seeking to expand, transition or transform the current landscape of literary and artistic thinking." How would you characterize the current landscape and what expansions or transformations would you like to see?
A: It appears that the current landscape seeks and maintains an established status quo driven by market, and pre-conceived cultural conditions...It is getting harder to uncover those voices that offer different interpretations of human existence. There appears to be an accepted style or ambiance in most creative genres that aspiring artists tend to follow versus taking bold action to present what may be considered out of the mainstream. Of course, this “follow the leader” mentality may be a natural evolution: challenge leads to something new and different, which eventually becomes accepted, and then whatever happens in that field conforms to that accepted way of expression until the next wave of critical challenge comes along. I want to see challenge as an ongoing, fluid and planned action that is fueled by sufficient outlets and opportunities for artists to engage the public and allow that audience to judge the artistic and/or creative merits of artistic expressions.

Poet Cyd Fulton at aaduna reading
(photo by Cristofe Chabot)
Q: Aaduna emphasizes "talent traditionally denied access to a wide and diverse audience." Could you expand upon that?
A: Access, equity and opportunity for advancement remains a challenge for people of color especially women, as well as for folks whose social/cultural/economic/sexual background limit exposure to role models and influencers...Diversity is a structural foundation for our operation and we try to reflect diverse and varied voices and visions in our publication that we feel speaks to the actual global reality.  

Q: How many submissions does aaduna receive in a typical month?
A: Any attempt at averaging would not necessarily present a representative data set...The flow of submissions tend to be more numerous at the onset of a submission period and again towards its end. Invariably, we receive more submissions in the literary genres than we can accommodate and often negotiate publication in a later issue than the one the writer submitted for. In the visual arts, we face more of a challenge in garnishing submissions with a handful of submissions in any given submission period. However, we do pursue certain artists that come to our attention and work with them to compile an intriguing portfolio of their work for publication.  

Poet Sean O'Grady at aaduna reading
(photo by Cristofe Chabot)
Q: What happens when a submission is received at aaduna?
A:  It is logged in; read by the submissions manager and forwarded to at least two contributing editors/readers who comment/edit the work and offer their opinion on publication. The work then goes to the publisher with all commentaries and he determines actual publication after a give ‘n’ take discussion with the reviewers. When there is a positive publication decision, invariably the publisher engages the writer/artist in discussions regarding how the work may be improved and made stronger. The publisher recommends the editorial changes and the rationale for such changes to the submitter and certifies the final version.

Q: How many submissions are accepted for publication?
A: Interestingly, when we started out, we did not establish a quota thinking that the boundaries of online publishing set no parameters. Currently, we accommodate up to twenty-four individuals for publication in all genres as a maximum. Our reality has settled at publication ceilings that enable us to publish eight to ten poets, five non-fiction writers, five fiction writers, and three visual artists. Now, these standards do not necessarily mean that we will hit or even want to hit these levels in any given issue. We make every attempt to present quality work that can challenge and broaden human understanding and do not publish any work just to meet an internal driven quota.          

Poet Tamara Madison at aaduna reading
(Photo by Cristofe Chabot)
Q: What are the most common reasons a manuscript or artwork is declined?
A:  Poor quality; themes and ideas that are still being developed; no meaningful value to broadening public understanding of any given issue; scattered thinking expressed as writing or art. At aaduna, we are conscious that our personal preferences should not drive publication decisions, but whether or not the work brings some value added quality to our readership. Now, with saying that, it should be noted that we make publication decisions within the parameters of our Mission.  

Q: How many people read aaduna?
A: From the various analytics that we have access to, we know we are receiving 60,000 visits per month to Our partnerships with other organizations and access to their social network sites may make our audience figure extremely low and conservative as to actual readership. I do know we have a verifiable international reach that is literally throughout the world, and those figures continue to grow.

Q: Is being unaffiliated with a university a good, bad, or neutral thing for aaduna?
A: As a former higher education official, I know affiliation does bring resources that an independent venture struggles to put in place...At this stage of the game, I am pleased with our position as a non-university sponsored organization though we struggle to identify needed resources. As far as legitimacy and reach, we continue to push and broaden the understanding of those entities that support the arts as to who we are and what we need to do and their responsibility for issues of access, equity, opportunity and organizational support.
Q: Is online technology fundamental to your mission? If it were, say, the 1970s, would you have founded aaduna as a print publication?
A: Our mission is founded and nurtured in online technology. We recognize that existing only as a print entity would limit the global reach that we now enjoy so aaduna will stay rooted in online publication. With that said, we are challenged to find resources to keep pace with the changes in technology. As far as print initiatives, I am a firm believer that print publications can survive and thrive in a technological environment.  One of our long-range plans is to print and publish an anthology of work we have presented as a quality coffee table book, as well as move into publishing chapbooks. I do think print publishing must be geared towards specialized markets to survive and not necessarily for mass-market consumption, which may no longer exist due to the diversity of other information and media outlets.

Q: Would you agree or disagree that contemporary readers are more interested in non-fiction than in fiction?
A: I think people are escapist by nature and would rather escape and run away to and into a world of  "make-believe" rather than the stark reality that each of us must face each day...While there are non-fiction works that are important, I think the readers are specific (in some way) to the field that the work covers; have a history of being an armchair analyst of the topic that the book covers or a social need to be up on cocktail/coffee shop conversation.

Q: What is the biggest challenge in running aaduna?
A: Keeping (and expanding) a volunteer staff interested and intrigued to do the work that produces each issue. That single issue motivates us to make sure this endeavor is fun and loose. Presenting contributing writers and artists to live audiences helps to keep our fires burning especially when we can host those post-event receptions with the audience or a dinner for the artist(s) to meet our Board of Directors and valued advisors. Quite frankly, even more of a challenge is the need to identify the resources to maintain the technology skill sets that are needed to produce issues and archive them.  We have to upgrade our technology and the platforms that we use. Aaduna, even at its young age, needs a “look” that reflects its style and demeanor and techies to create our characteristic feel.  We need to make accessing archived issues easier and quicker. So, if there are interested volunteers out there, e- me.
Here's more information --

"Interview with aaduna."  Pubslush. 2012.

"Just What is an aaduna?" 13 March 2011.

"Online Art and Literary Journal Reaches International Audience from Auburn." 13 September 2012.