Leadership is stunning and weighted and breathlessly vulnerable. In the ten years leading this mag, I have learned many lessons, crossed many lines, risked friendships and futures, and stretched far beyond what I thought was possible. So in the lead-up to Versal's 10-year anniversary and tenth edition, I would like to share some of what it's been like to be Versal's editor, stories that intersect, inevitably, with the larger conversations out there around editing, writing, publishing, women, and inclusion.
Part 1: You will take the cake
Many years ago, I asked someone to leave Versal’s editorial team.
The decision to do this was protracted and painful. He wanted Versal to go in one direction, a direction where he was not subject to the decisions of a team. He wanted to be The Editor, the man at the top, praised for his choices by other men-at-the-tops. These men were his heroes. They were the men whose poems he revered. The men who made decisions subject to no one—save their forefathers. The men whose decisions people talked about, wrote books about.
I stood between him and his mythology. I told him it should not work that way. I told him it would not work that way in Versal.
Our schism affected every aspect of Versal’s makings, and there were many arguments. More than that, there was screaming. He fought like me: brutal and unmoving. To protect the others on the team, I took the brunt of his rage and ego, and tried to keep the horizon of Versal in sight. It took me two years to choose Versal over our friendship, and in the end I did.
When I told him that his time with Versal was over, he said, “You will take the cake.”
It is now four years since that day and ten years since I and two other women started Versal in a bar in the Nieuwmarkt of Amsterdam. The story goes that we started it to bring a community together—to connect, even create, a more inclusive, multilingual and further-reaching literary community than the one Amsterdam already had. That story is true. What is also true is that we succeeded. Writers who move here now from some other geography don’t have to look far to find a literary home. Versal is turning ten this year, our tenth edition, and we are doing well. We even just won an award! But more importantly, and more to the point, we’re doing good work to question the models in literary publishing, wherever they come from, and to dare not just ask how things can be different but to try to change them, even if it means we stumble or upset people. Even if it means we sometimes lose friends.
Roxane Gay’s piece on the matter of men and women in publishing pretty much sums it all up for me, and I join her call to get (back) down to work.
So yes. Yes, I will take the cake. In fact, I plan to spend Versal’s entire tenth year eating that cake. And I hope you’ll join me.