Plucky Young Upstart: A Conversation with Holly Hunter about Mimicry

Mimicry is a new Wellington-based literary and arts journal with poetry, fiction, nonfiction, visual art, and even music. It’s the brainchild of Holly Hunter, Assistant Editor at Victoria University Press. This week I had the pleasure of talking to Hunter about the journal, editing her friends, and what she sees happening in young writers’ work.


Sarah Jane Barnett: The journal’s opening page states that ‘Mimicry 1 is an act of nepotism,’ and that your contributors are your ‘incredibly talented and creatively driven friends.’ Tell me where the idea for the journal came from, and about the process of putting Mimicry together. I think many creative people have late night ideas, but most don’t go ahead. I’m glad you made this one happen – it’s a great read. What inspired you to make it happen? Was it difficult to edit and select work from your friends?

Holly Hunter: The opening page is as much a joke as it is a disclaimer, because I think most New Zealand journals are cliquey and nepotistic. In fact the journal was almost called Nepotism, but I backtracked when I realised that poor, well-meaning contributors would forever have it on their record that they were ‘published in Nepotism’—which isn’t exactly an impressive addition to a bio. If nothing else, I want to make a habit of pretentious, grandiose and controversial opening pages that either make the reader laugh or slam the journal shut. Journals could do with more character, I reckon, to live and breathe in their own right alongside the work.

The drive behind Mimicry was less calculated than how I think it’s been received. More than anything it was born from a sappy place of admiration for the people I know who live and breathe their creative side-hustles and deserve a space to display their work. But Mimicry also partly comes from a place of frustration with what I sometimes worry is a vortex of a literary environment. I like reading things that feel raw and contemporary, like they could spin out of control and off the axis, or that don’t care how they’re read but, at the same time, are tight and controlled. Mimicry’s approach isn’t entirely new; the chapbooks, journals and zines of Jackson Nieuwland and Carolyn de Carlo have been doing edgy, fresh things for years. One of their chapbooks, Bound: an ode to falling in love (Compound Press), is a diary of love poems from the perspectives of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. Zines like theirs, and journals like The Lifted Brow, showed me what something like Mimicry could look like. It probably also helps that I’m a plucky young upstart with no sense of responsibility or consequence.

Editing my friends was a strange process. With some submissions, the edit was as light as applying a style and tidying a few misspellings, and with others it was more hands-on. The democratic ‘anyone can write and create’ attitude of Mimicry meant there was an element of back-and-forth development with newer writers. For that, I think it helps that I work full-time as an editor—I get to work with words all day, every day; most of the issues I encountered with Mimicry were ones I’ve come across. Being edited is probably more awkward for my friends than it is for me. I’m a little numb to the weirdness of it! (Friends lost through the editing process: 0, so far.)

SJB: I know that creative friends often share work and learn from each other. I can see the influence of my writing friends on my poetry. Are there echoes and connections between pieces in the journal? Did any of the contributors collaborate?

HH: Before we announced the journal setlist, only a few of the contributors knew who else would be in the journal, what it would look like, or what angle we were going for. I guess that’s a good reason to publish your friends in a first-issue journal: they’ll trust you even though your idea could be a colossal fuck-up. So there weren’t collaborations as such, but many of us went through university together and spent that time in the same young-writers’ echo chamber (a sewer-like place where undergraduates shout words at the walls until something sticks and they find their voice).

I think there are mannerisms emerging in young writers’ works, mainly that they don’t take themselves too seriously but at the same time, they say something honest—half a joke, half a generational cry for help. In that way, I think we all kind of feed off and gain fuel from one another. I’d actually like to see referential literature emerge in Mimicry; stuff that talks back to previous issues. There’s no way that writers can live in a vacuum and create some fabled ‘pure’ art, so why not be less ashamed of our influences? That’s where ‘mimicry’ comes in, I suppose. One echo I see in the journal, and across young writers’ work in general, is how the inevitable reproduction and repurposing of past literature and ideas to adapt to and exist in the cultural now gives off a kind of a hopeful nihilism. That sounds so pretentious and barely makes sense. Ah, well.

Hunter at the launch of Mimicry 1.
Hunter at the launch of Mimicry 1.

SJB: You work as the Assistant Editor at Victoria University Press. Tell me about how you ended up there and what makes you want to work in publishing. What do you see as the relationship between larger publishers such as VUP, and small indie publishers such as yourself (whether that be readership, purpose etc.)? Do you have plans for a Mimicry 2?

HH: It was a bit like an arranged marriage success story. My mother, the Whitireia publishing programme, put a call out for suitors, and local matchmaker the Publishing Association of New Zealand (PANZ) found me a beau in VUP. Basically there was an application process (on both our parts) to receive a six-month paid internship from PANZ, and following that I’ve been lucky enough to stay on as as a baby editor and help out with the packed 2016 and 2017 publication lists. It’s such a privilege to work with talented authors and a close-knit community of booklovers. The launch parties are pretty excellent, too.

I think indie publishers and journals are important both as playgrounds and platforms for writers to hone their craft and build a name for themselves. The main differences between indie and established publishers are probably quality, budget, and publicity and distribution power. I like to think Mimicry can put a check next to quality, but it takes long-term relationships in the industry and a lot of money to do the others properly.

There will definitely be a Mimicry 2 and it’s all starting very soon. I won’t say too much, but Todd Atticus (Mimicry’s designer) and I have been brainstorming some outlandish video and cover art ideas. We also have ambitious plans for a launch, which will be near the end of January 2017.

SJB: The journal features poetry, fiction, non-fiction, visual art and even a music download. I can tell that attention was also paid to the design. Did you have a specific intent to make Mimicry multi-form? How do you see these mediums working together?

HH: Thanks! In my mind Mimicry was always going to be like a cross-form gazette of what artists are up to. I want it to feel like a regular showcase or an ongoing gallery. Bringing together a range of mediums and genres feels to me like a realistic evolution for the traditional journal, knowing what the average 21st-century attention span can withstand. The way we read is changing, and there’s a growing expectation for literature to entertain. By breaking up the more traditional fiction and poetry pieces with art, design, comedy, photography or a redirection to a music download, Mimicry is almost more magazine than journal.

I also hope that having virtually no hard limits on the mediums makes people who don’t habitually read pick up the journal. The idea that these art forms have separate audiences—as though poetry lovers don’t know how to laugh, or prose readers are emotionally dead when faced with artwork—seems flawed. At least in my experiences of Wellington, these communities are tightly linked. Any given contributor in issue one is friends with a musician who’s friends with an artist who’s friends with a stand-up comedian. But for some reason, movement between ‘high literature’ and other forms of entertainment can feel like a one-way street: while poets and writers freely masquerade as TV binge-watchers or groupies, people from other artistic communities seem to be alienated by the local literature scene. So maybe the art, comedy and music are feathers on my fishing fly to get more people reading poetry and short fiction. And maybe it’s also true that I will unabashedly publish anything I think is cool.

SJB: Final question. How was the launch party in your living room?

HH: It was great! We had about 70 people come along, 50–50 friends and strangers. I’m also never doing it again—at least not with this landlord.

You can find Mimicry on their Facebook page and purchase the journal here.

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