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Paper Darts magazine pokes holes in literary stodginess

When the magazine launched in 2009, it immediately staked its spot in the Something Different category.

Things are getting weird in the Twin Cities literary scene, says Holly Harrison, the marketing director of Paper Darts magazine, and that’s purely by design. When the magazine launched in 2009, it immediately staked its spot in the Something Different category.

The brainchild of Meghan Murphy, Jamie Millard, Holly Harrison and Courtney Algeo, a group of graphic designers and editors, the magazine is a visual feast that weighs storytelling equally between text and illustration. The most distinctive artists in town bring to life fiction and essays by a new generation of writers that aren’t mourning the many changes that have befallen writing (and bookselling) as we once knew it. Instead, they are embracing the medium and mindset at hand, and rewriting the Twin Cities writing scene.

This summer, you can see what I’m talking about at the Paper Darts Pop-Up, a six-week celebration between the Twin Cities arts and literary communities. From now until July 20, the SooLOCAL storefront will host 20 readings, discussions, panels and interactive experiences by 25 different organizations, bringing together artists, writers, sculptors, actors, gamers, musicians and creative people of every stripe.

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There’s a new issue of Paper Darts out, too. You can take it home and read it quietly after the show — just you and the pages, that old-school reading experience.

MinnPost: How has the local literary scene changed in the past five years?

Holly Harrison: Our literary scene is getting more weird and wonderful by the minute, and organizations are constantly trying to figure out how to one-up themselves (and one another). There’s definitely been a spike in more dynamic literary events — readings are starting to look less like readings and more like, we guess, shows, with interactive, visual, musical or humorous twists. Everyone is trying to balance community with curiosities — asking what kind of event will draw our literary community out of their dusty dens and into the real world for a writerly reunion, how much interaction we can expect, what will freak people out in the bad way, what will freak people out in the good way, what will leave an impression.

MP: What role did Paper Darts play in making this happen?

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Holly Harrison

HH: We can’t give ourselves all the credit, much as we’d like to. The dominoes were all lined up; Paper Darts just leaned in and gave the first one a flick. But we are strong believers in keeping readings short and funny, keeping people boozed up so that they enjoy them that much more, and showcasing non-literary talent like local musicians and visual artists at otherwise “literary” events. Collaboration has always been a big part of the Twin Cities literary scene, but this is the most it’s been happening across fields and sectors, and we dig it.

MP: Are there now two separate and competing literary scenes — old school and new? Or is the new just naturally rising to take over?

HH: How about separate and not competing? There is definitely a place for both — the so-called new school couldn’t exist without the old school. It’s because of the old school that the women of Paper Darts pursued English degrees in the first place. And without the old school, we wouldn’t have had a model to follow (or, depending on your perspective, warp beyond recognition). We wouldn’t have a support system. Paper Darts may shy away from black text on white pages, but that way of thinking will always hold a place on our bookshelves and in our hearts. And despite our different ideas and different products, basically everyone on the lit mag end of the lit scene isn’t motivated by money. We just care about good writing.

MP: What is over and done with in the local writing scene?

HH: Our community craves literary interaction beyond the traditional reading. While there will probably still be a role for the traditional author/poet readings, more and more organizations are organically creating experiences that push those boundaries. The literary events are becoming more geared towards engaging the audience than spotlighting an author — it’s kind of a major shift for our scene.

MP: How does the new guard impact audiences differently?

HH: We’re big on accessibility — no more writing for writers only. We feature brilliant up-and-comers but take a cue from glossy mags in how to showcase them, guiding the eye with illustration and big fat pull quotes. To stay relevant in this not-as-terrifying-as-you’ve-been-led-to-believe digital age, we vie for people’s short attention spans the way advertisers do: with visuals, with weight, with sass.

MP: Is this local, or is writing overall a different art form from what it was in the not-too-distant past?

HH: It’s not just local. This could just be our lens, but changes in publishing seem to be forcing changes in writing. For example, writers are getting more comfortable with having their work published online, and for most pieces to work online they need to be short. That means a bit of a short-story renaissance. In the meantime, self-publishing has gotten easier and cheaper and sexier, and people aren’t waiting for permission to get their work out there. (This could be a good thing or a bad thing; we guess we’ll see.) Finally, writers also have new and simpler ways of marketing themselves — platforms like Tumblr and Twitter are much less intimidating than they were a few years ago, and if writers know how to use them correctly, that can be a huge thing for their brands and careers. People make a lot of noise about the death of print, but we think that writing and that being a writer is pretty awesome right now.

MP: Who are the best writers in town, in your opinion? Who’s going to bust loose and make a big impression beyond this place?

HH: We have a lifelong love affair with John Jodzio, Maggie Ryan Sandford, Matt Mauch, Matt Rasmussen, and Eric Vrooman. As for some less-publicized Paper Darts infatuations, here are a few people that make us feel warm fuzzies for the local writing scene and want big things for but don’t ever want to let go of: Carrie Lorig, Jay Orff, Sally Franson, Logan Adams, Katharine Rauk, Katie Sisneros, Katie Heaney, Sierra DeMulder, and John Gordon.

MP: Describe the vibe at a typical Paper Darts event.

HH: Strange, upbeat, social. Paper Darts events feel a bit like family reunions, where everyone’s a little dysfunctional and most of the people don’t actually know each other.

MP: What event are you personally most amped about?

HH: We’re not trying to be fair to all our partners when we say we genuinely cannot pick. We’re looking forward to learning at the book marketing and video game music panels. Can’t wait to see what The Buoyant Group has up their sleeve. Excited to see the new work by Allegra Lockstadt and Andres Guzman premiered at Candy Arena. It’s going to be a whirlwind of a summer, kind of like eating the entire buffet … and loving it.