I met Kristen Felicetti on a rooftop during the summer of 2017. The roof belonged to her apartment building, and we were up there for the Brooklyn stop of Peach Goth Tour, a series of readings organized by Peach Mag and Shabby Doll House featuring me, Lucy K Shaw, Matthew Bookin, Oscar d'Artois, Caroline Rayner, and many of our mutual contributors in seven cities spanning the Northeastern United States and Canada. It was our first stop, and I was nervous as hell; all these people who I’d only known online all seemed to know one another IRL already. But Kristen was kind and friendly; like a great host, she made sure that the reading was all good vibes. The sun set as we read, and everybody stuck around to sit cross-legged in circles and chat and laugh late into the night. In the nearly five (?!) years since, I’ve been lucky to continue getting to know Kristen—as a friend, a fellow editor, and a killer writer.
Kristen is a prose writer of many genres: adult fiction, YA fiction, creative nonfiction, and memoiristic travel writing, to name a few. (We were lucky to have her guest-edit fiction for us during an open reading period in Season 6!) She is also the founding editor of The Bushwick Review, a print journal based out of—you guessed it—Bushwick, which has published everything from short stories and poetry to interviews, embroidery, photography, comics, and more since 2009. Last year, she launched Nomadic, a Substack newsletter and travel writing project in which she explores new cities, lives in them like a local, and writes about them. I’m a big fan!
After co-presenting the Northeast stop on Shabby Doll House’s (virtual) World Tour, Kristen and I began emailing about our shared sentimentality for the online writing community we’ve developed over the last decade. Our correspondence was slow and spanned several months—she got covid, then I got covid, so much of life and life’s shit happened—which gave us the opportunity to talk about things that might not have otherwise come up, like the death of Joan Didion and intentions for 2022.
The following exchange begins on November 4, 2021 and wraps up on January 21, 2022. When Kristen responded to one of my questions with “Sometimes I remember there was a time that I didn’t know anyone else who loved this strange weird writing thing”.......I felt that. –Rachelle Toarmino
RT: At one point during the reading, I privately messaged you, "this is so special, i'm so glad we got to do this together." I was feeling so grateful and sentimental about...everything! And I feel like you were on a similar vibe. What was coming up for you?
KF: Ohhh, I love this as the first question. I remember messaging you back, "I feel the same way <3 <3 feeling emotional." I feel a real kinship with you and Lucy K Shaw and Sarah Jean Alexander. I like you all and (to me) we bring a similar dedication to writing, both to our own writing and to supporting the work of others—whether that’s by publishing people in our respective magazines (Peach Mag/Shabby Doll House/The Bushwick Review), or interviewing writers, or sending messages of encouragement, or organizing a reading. We’ve all known each other for awhile now and done our magazines for years, but I think this was our first joint event, and it just felt so special and right to celebrate Shabby Doll House’s first books in that moment together among many mutual friends. Sometimes I remember there was a time that I didn’t know anyone else who loved this strange weird writing thing. I looked around at the faces on that Zoom and felt very grateful.
RT: That's exactly it. Before starting Peach and meeting all of you, I felt so untethered to any one community, let alone a writing community, let alone a writing community of young people writing about similar things as me, in similar styles as me, people who wanted to read my writing too. So much has changed in the last six years. And I feel sentimental about it because the models I had for Peach were Shabby Doll House, and Metatron Press, and The Bushwick Review, and Potluck Mag, and Witch Craft Magazine—so many publishing projects run by young women also wanting to carve out a space for themselves and fill it with some spirit of camaraderie. That night, it sort of hit me all at once how lucky I am—seeing all these friends I'd made in the last six years whose writing I'd loved and learned from. A whole world!
Which makes me want to ask you: How did The Bushwick Review really begin? The circumstances of that point in your life, sure—but also: Was there a particular idea or feeling you kept returning to, or a moment you looked around and felt, This isn't enough?
KF: The Bushwick Review began shortly after I graduated college. My friends and I were struggling to find a way for our work to be seen, or even finding a reason to finish it. Time and energy is limited when you're working a million jobs and trying to make rent. And it can feel rather soul crushing to send stuff to established literary magazines, or big visual art contests, and know the odds are stacked against you. So I sent a mass email that started, "Greetings friends, I am inviting you to submit work to a yet-to-be-named literary/art zine" and included in it the promise of a deadline and motivator to finish something, a way for that thing to be read and seen by others (even if it was only a small audience), and potential community—we'd all be together in this magazine and we might really vibe with each other.
My ambitions for The Bushwick Review have grown since then, it's not just my friends being published in it anymore. But that same mentality is still there, just on a larger scale. I like to create situations where others don't have to wait for someone else's permission to make something and I want the magazine to be a place where folks who are more reticent about sharing their writing, or less represented in publishing in general, can celebrate their first publication. And I love to see two contributors meeting and chatting excitedly together at one of our release parties.
So, I don't think there was a defining moment where I thought This isn't enough? Maybe This isn't enough is just what I'm thinking while going through life all the time, lol. I'm curious as to what the origins of Peach Mag were? Did you come right out of the gate with a vision or has it been more evolving?
RT: I get pretty restless if the ideas don't evolve, but I think the feeling and intention behind it all has stayed the same. I like creating opportunities for writers and artists to encounter each other's work—mostly, I guess, because that’s what I personally like to do. I like group projects and collaborating toward common goals. I like making new friends over shared interests like reading and making art. I get a lot of joy and energy from all of this.
There were many moments leading up to our launch in 2016 when I either thought This is cool, I want to belong here or This sucks, I have another idea or This isn't enough. Luckily, I found other people with a similar itch and we got to make Peach Mag together. Tell me about Tim, the designer behind The Bushwick Review and your longtime collaborator, and anyone else you'd like to shout out on your team. How did you meet and come to work together?
KF: I met Tim at a Syracuse University incoming freshman orientation. We were both at this Q&A with current students and it was just question after question about frat parties, drinking, sports, sororities. I sat there thinking, "o god, I've made a huge mistake." But then, out of nowhere, this redhead, with no fucks to give, raises his hand and asks, "Can you tell me about the honors program?" I was immediately like, "Lol, who is he? He must become my friend."
Tim did become one of my best friends, though it didn't actually happen until after college, when we were both living in Brooklyn. He was one of the people I asked to contribute to the very first issue (via that email I mentioned in the last question) and then after issue 3, he asked if he could help with the design. He's a brilliant designer, so of course I said yes, and it’s been a total level-up from issue 4 on. His design really makes The Bushwick Review stand out from other lit mags, and I think the design sets the tone as much as the editorial decisions do. It’s also grown to be a full-fledged 50/50 collaboration. He reaches out to a lot of the visual artists we feature and he's a sharp editor himself. For the last issue, we put so much care into how every written and visual piece was treated, we had endless Slack threads obsessing and loling over things like a single line change. It's safe to say we've gone full honors program on this mag.
Once we have pass pages, Tim, myself, and several other people will meet, order takeout, and go through the entire issue to debate everything from copy edits to smaller design elements. So I'd also like to shout out Joel Alter, Michele Rosenthal, and Alison Breaden, who have participated in these epic copy editing parties for multiple issues and made them really fun. And Drew Gardner, who designed our website. That's a shortlist though. There’s so many friends who have truly shown up for The Bushwick Review in genuine ways and that means a lot to me.
RT: Okay but my ideal party involves takeout and copyediting! That sounds amazing, lol.
I totally agree that design sets the tone of a journal (of anything!) just as much as contributor content and editorial decisions. I feel so lucky that our two graphic designers, Mickey Harmon and Shayna Kiblin, so fully and accurately bring Peach's tone and aesthetic to life. How would you characterize The Bushwick Review's aesthetic? Are there certain styles, moods, or subject matter you gravitate toward? Similarly, you've been doing this for years: Do you have any editorial pet peeves? Anything that flags an immediate or hard no?
KF: Lol, I had a hunch you'd also be into the copy editing party! Re: how to characterize The Bushwick Review's style or subject matter, I don't know if other lit mags feel similarly, but sometimes I've struggled a bit with how to answer that question. I have friends who edit non-lit mags that are centered around a specific identity or topic, and it seems so much easier to do a pitch. Then MoMA PS1's bookstore featured a past issue of ours on their Instagram and wrote this review: "From prose to photography to sequential art, the publication is united by a dark sense of humor suggesting that people who tell you that you can laugh OR cry at dire situations aren't thinking creatively enough. Both is certainly a worthwhile option, but best of all is creating something strange and beautiful to share with the weird, wide world. The Bushwick Review emphatically embraces this final option." I nearly cried when I first read that. It means a lot when people really see and get what you're doing, but they also put our vibe into better words than I could have.
I thought about whether I have anything that flags an immediate hard no and for now I'll stick with saying I do not, lol. Like everyone, I have my own preferences and biases, but I'm always open to an exception to the rule that's done well and done with intention.
RT: I know exactly what you mean. It feels similar to writing: Sometimes I'm too close to the work and I need an outside reader or editor to help me see what something is or where it's headed. Obviously I gravitate toward doing things I like, but I don't always know why I like them—or, maybe more to the point, I don't go into something with a clear picture of what I like in mind and then make choices that align with that vision. That feels too prescriptive—it's more intuitive than that. Plus...more than anything I like to be surprised!
You recently launched Nomadic, a newsletter that requires you to travel to different cities in the United States to publish your travel writing, interviews with local writers and editors, and creative essays by residents exploring their own personal connection to various parts of the cities. Tell me about this project: What made you want to try something new, and how do you see it relating to your work on The Bushwick Review?
KF: More than anything I like to be surprised too! And I like changing things up, not taking the same route twice. I launched Nomadic because I started living in a way I'd wanted to for a long time. Basically, live somewhere with a low cost of living and travel frequently while working remotely. And often spend a longer time in those places than I might have for just a vacation. It took a while both jobwise and COVID-wise to get there, but I'm doing it now. And of course, being me, I had to write about it, or make some kind of project about it.
I view The Bushwick Review and certain aspects of Nomadic (the interviews, the guest essays) as branches of the same tree. It's all connected to this love of supporting other writers, as mentioned earlier. But it's also a chance to flex my editing muscles in a different way. When putting together an issue of The Bushwick Review, I'm thinking of all the pieces at once. With this newsletter, I'll just be focused on working with one writer at a time.
I also wanted to try doing something a little less planned out. Working on The Bushwick Review or writing my own fiction is a pretty tightly controlled, edited, obsessed over experience. There's many ways to do a newsletter, but I've liked when other people have written something that feels very immediate, off-the-cuff and then just sent it. And it's a travel publication, so as with anything travel related, you've got to be prepared for a potential change of plans, especially these days.
RT: So many hats! What do you see as some of the things that interrupt or challenge your ability to work on The Bushwick Review, Nomadic, and your own writing? What’s your day job? What’s your day-to-day life like, and how do you ensure you make time for all of these projects?
KF: I feel like I don't! Over the years, I've had so many day jobs, from full time day jobs to a bunch of part-time jobs stacked together, and I've always found ensuring I have enough time and focus to devote to my own writing or The Bushwick Review to be a challenge. There’s things I'm proud of accomplishing, but it can always sort of feel that one project or another is being neglected, or I haven't gone as far with it as I wanted to in X amount of time.
My day job is working as a support specialist, it's full-time and remote. So I try to fit in my creative work on weekends, evenings, and on a rare beautiful occasion—mornings. Basically, any time I'm not working my day job or spending time with friends (which is important to me too!). But it’s more of a scramble than a set schedule, I’m never going to be a person who gets up at 6am every day and writes 3 hours before starting work, as much as I wish I could be. And I think it's not just about time, but also energy. Like, sometimes, even if I’m free, I might not be in the right mental space to do anything all that productive. So it’s just evaluating where I'm at each moment. Ex: it’s the weekend, I have a longer period of interrupted time to let my mind wander and enjoy writing, so I’ll do that. Or, it’s 6pm after work, I’m tired, maybe the most I can do is send one email about an event for The Bushwick Review and then, read a book. Reading is something I really value too, and I think it helps me become a better writer, so I’ll default to that if I feel at a loss for what to do.
I still feel I haven’t really figured out a plan that works for me though, so I’m always curious about how other people structure their days. Can I ask how you balance all the things? Day job or school/Peach Mag/your own writing/everything else?
RT: Same—I definitely don’t! I mean, I actually feel really spoiled at the moment because my full-time focus is my MFA, so I suddenly have all this time to do what I used to save for late nights and weekends. I’m not the kind of person who can write for a little bit every day and have that accumulate into something big; I really need to indulge in long stretches of uninterrupted time to get anything meaningful done. It’s just the way I like to think—I like to be fully immersed. To answer your question, though, I think my social life especially suffers. Sometimes I worry whether I’ll regret all of this staying home and spending most of my free time reading and writing, but I don’t think I’d be happy living any other way. I think that’s why I increasingly find myself gravitating toward friendships with other writers as I get older. They get it!
I was planning on asking you more about your work/life/art balance/sacrifice but I just learned that Joan Didion died. That’s the third big loss this week, after bell hooks on December 15 and Eve Babitz on December 17. Asking you if you have a connection to them seems trite and yet it would seem glaring, I think, to leave them out of this interview entirely. Maybe especially Didion, given your shared connection to New York City and the sort of work you’ve been writing for Nomadic…
KF: I love how this format has allowed our conversation to slowly unfold and evolve in real time. It’s a shock that we lost three major women writers in the span of slightly over a week, but I don't personally have a strong connection to any of them because, to be honest, I haven't yet read much of their work. Only a little of Joan Didion's (The White Album and maybe a few other essays). I feel kind of embarrassed about that, even though I know there shouldn't be any shame in when you discover or decide to read a writer. So, to anyone who's just now reading Didion’s Play As It Lays or bell hooks’ All About Love or Eve Babitz's Eve's Hollywood—I'm right there with you.
RT: Definitely no shame! Who are some of your own North Stars? Either writers you find yourself returning to and modeling your own work or lifestyle after, or maybe editors and publishers who have inspired some of your work on The Bushwick Review or Nomadic…
KF: Patti Smith. She’s the writer I think of in relation to your question about New York City and writing for Nomadic. I mean, she’s a New York icon, who doesn't connect her to New York, but maybe less people associate her with travel, which she writes about a lot too. She’s also talked about how she doesn’t like being stuck in one place for too long and if she is, she doesn’t work or write well. I just love so much about her in general: her prose, style, music, how she recently turned 75 and still has so much compassion and wonder towards the world.
Another North Star is the playwright Annie Baker. I think I’ve read every play of hers, or seen it performed, or both. There’s something about the way she treats dialogue and character that’s weirdly perfect to me.
As for editors/publishers, I admired Giancarlo DiTrapano, especially how fiercely loyal he was to his writers. In my opinion, that’s the most important quality in an editor/publisher, especially a book publisher. You gotta stand by your writers. I’m also inspired when I have a great experience with an editor myself. Last year, I was in this anthology We Are The Baby-Sitters Club and the editors (Marisa Crawford and Megan Milks) did such an excellent job, both with the edits they gave and with how clear their communication was during the whole process from pitch to publication. I really made note of that. Like, actively thought, “I want to bring the same level of care and commitment Marisa and Megan gave to the contributors of that anthology to contributors of The Bushwick Review or guest writers for Nomadic.”
RT: I feel that. What else would you like to see more of in the independent publishing world? How can editors and publishers bring a closer level of care and intention to their work?
KF: For me, it all comes down to, once again, standing by your writers. That can look a lot of different ways. Some editors/publishers give tough love, and others are more soft. Either is fine depending on the writer, but whatever way you go, the writer should feel you're excited about their work. I strive for thoughtful edits that level up what the writer is already doing and clear communication that includes attention to detail. Everyone complains about too many emails, but I’d rather be the editor that emails over a single line-edit than be the editor who ghosts.
With The Bushwick Review, I also want to be supporting contributors' work long-term. I love making celebratory posts about their future publications and back when I lived in New York, I’d try to make a point of going to contributors’ gallery or music shows. They can put me down as a reference, and I’m always down to answer any of their writing or publishing questions.
Speaking of which, I don’t need to necessarily see more of this in the publishing world, because many of us are so good at it already, but I want to continue to foster an environment of transparency. Occasionally someone will ask where I print The Bushwick Review, or how I pay for it, sometimes with a bit of hesitancy, and I’m like, “oh, I’m happy to talk about that stuff.” (We printed the last issue with Bookmobile. Tim and I split the cost of printing out of our own pockets. That’s not the most sustainable model, but I’ve applied for grants and not gotten them. Those applications can take a lot of time, and I decided I’d rather spend that time working on the magazine itself.). And not just resources-related transparency, I’ve always appreciated when an editor has been candid about their feelings or frustrations, or why they almost gave up or something. Knowing we all share similar frustrations can often give everyone energy to keep going. Anyway, I want a world where anyone feels empowered to start their own lit mag or press, and I think anything that demystifies the whole process helps cultivate that.
RT: So what’s next? Either for Nomadic, The Bushwick Review, or your own creative projects—what are you hoping to focus on in 2022?
KF: I actually just met up with Tim to talk about what we want to do for The Bushwick Review this year. We want to put out something printed, but in a different way than we’ve done before. More to come, I’m excited for what this evolution might look like. And I’ll be in Los Angeles for the entire month of February, so that’ll be the next Nomadic stop. Maybe I can truly lean into my Joan Didion-era when I’m out there too, lol.
I’ve spent the last couple years writing and editing a novel about a teenage girl's coming of age during the days of LiveJournal and the early internet. I've pitched it as The Perks of Being a Wallflower meets Pen15. Querying that book and getting an agent is a major 2022 goal.
Finally, I want the year to bring a few good ‘ol IRL gatherings with writing pals, whether it’s to celebrate someone’s book or publication or just to hang out. There's something magical about being together after so much time working and thinking alone.
Kristen Felicetti is a writer and the founding editor in chief of The Bushwick Review. Her work has appeared in The Creative Independent, Hobart, The Rumpus, and the anthology We Are the Baby-Sitters Club. She was a finalist for the Asian American Writers' Workshop's 2021 Margins Fellowship and she attended the inaugural Tin House YA Workshop in 2019.
"We Might Know Each Other" is part of our interview series spotlighting the creative, experimental, often brief, often shoestring, and always underreported-upon projects in the independent publishing community. Read more Indie Lit conversations here.