I just got back from San Diego, marking it as the first city I have visited from which I bought and read a locally produced, contemporary literary magazine. For this challenge, I read The Radvocate, Issue 15. It is the last issue from the presiding founding editor Matt E. Lewis, who passes it on to Julie Dixon Evans, under whose future guidance it will continue with the backing of local non-profit So Say We All.
Because of this momentous occasion, his introduction is reflective.
In it’s infancy, The Radvocate was certainly no investment—it was a joke incarnate, a kind of send-off of the marketing of sub-cultures, barely worth the paper it was printed on. In time, support allowed it to grow into something else, a platform for writers and artists desperate to connect and share their work… The internet may have been a boon to sharing creative work, but it also made it twice as easy to commoditize. The Radvocate just wanted to fuck up your brain for a little while.
Reading about the origins of its Xeroxed zine days, spilling almost accidentally into a platform for artists to have the opportunity “to fuck your brain up for a little while,” told me exactly what to expect from the pages that followed. The essays, stories, and poems, many of them runners-up and winners to The Radvocate’s in-house contest were dark, strange, and marked by differences or Otherness in a hundred little ways. Birthed as a zine and now backed by a non-profit that operates to amplify the voices in the city of San Diego, I sense it has retained its soul from the days when each black and white copy had to be “printed” and stapled by hand.
The issue ranges from a defiant fist in the air as in the last essay from Skyler McCurine’s “Black. Woman.” and the poetry of Yvonne Higgins Leach, to many a middle finger pointed at various conventions, such as David Henson’s description of human connections faltering in a near-future, increasingly automated world in “The Tinder Men” and Elaine Gingery’s grasping of a different kind of tenderness that eludes those dying in “Six Months, Max.”
It is casually filled with deviant behaviors as in Jed Wyman’s “Sparks” in which a substance-driven, thrill-seeking B&E results unexpectedly in the theft of a beloved town drunk’s brain; or the exceptionally bizarre and unsettling murder escapade of “Summer of ‘76” in which Alex Bosworth’s 10-year old protagonist helps murder and dispose of the body of his brother’s 3rd grade teacher’s husband; and the easy law-breaking of bohemian artists and punks in “Echoes,” Pouya Razavi’s story about a renegade artist mother and her daughter.
It includes the ominous, like Paul Douglas McNeill II’s “Arctic Sounds,” the dystopian, like Steve Tague’s “The Farm,” and the mysterious, like Toni Martin’s “Fool’s Gold.” Amidst these stories are ordinary experiences of Marisa Crane’s stubborn, faltering couple in, “That’s Why They Have Coats On,” and the daily reality of anxiety and maybe young gay love in Gerardo de Jesus Gurrola Jr.’s “Gibbous.”
While it may be a polished and bound volume, this issue at least held onto the wide-flung artistic visions of a punk’s bohemian zine. As Lewis wrote with his last words from his farewell introduction to Issue 15,
What you hold in your hands now is a result of the support of you, the reader, and people like you who believe in things that shouldn’t work but do. I dedicate this issue to you, and all those that would fly in the face of convention one goofy Xerox at a time.