128 LIT is a new publication offering open access to literature, art, audio, and video content posted online on a rolling basis as well as offering readers an annual print and digital download issue. Started by New York-based writer Andrew Felsher and Yehui Zhao, a multi-media artist, 128 LIT’s origin is numerical and “is intended to be liberated from the confines of language. When we decided to launch an international literature and art magazine,” Felsher says, “we were mindful of the history, memory, and violence embedded in language(s) and all that comes with the burden of language and the way art and narratives locate and shape us.”
“Numbers transcend and are not weighed down by the war of place and language. The specific choice of ‘128’ lies in its exponential nature: 2 raised to the power of 7. This recognizes the compounding effects of socio-economic, emotional, and linguistic conditions—echoes of history filled with mangled trajectories and accumulations of oppression, colonization, and violence.
“Of course,” Felsher muses, “128 is not the only exponential number. There are infinite exponential numbers. We just felt that 128 LIT was much more appealing than 64 LIT, 256 LIT, or, let’s say, 16,777,216 LIT. I can’t imagine trusting 16,777,216 LIT with my writing, even if it situates us closer to the infinite nature of literature and socio-historical entanglements. Why would I subjugate potential contributors to a number that I would never trust? Wouldn’t that be funny? 128 LIT just felt right.”
And it might have just been finding the perfect name that helped bring 128 LIT to fruition, as Felsher shares, “Zhao and I had always played with the idea of bringing together our love for literature and art in the same space. In early 2022, I remember saying something like, ‘Hey, Yehui, do you want to start a magazine with me? Let’s use the number 128. It is perfect.’ She said, ‘Okay, I’ll design it.’ Within a day, we had a preliminary website design that adapted Yehui’s risograph prints from her Mirage series. I soon connected with editors and writers I had crossed paths with, and our mission began to emerge. Cinema played an important role in our vision—being deeply inspired by filmmakers, like Kidlat Tahimik, and filmmaker and theorist Trinh T. Minh-ha. Their work, along with literary figures such as Raúl Zurita, Franz Fanon, bell hooks, and Ilya Kaminsky, not only influenced our perspective but also helped shape the ethos of 128 LIT.”
Felsher and Zhao themselves each bring a unique depth of experience to the venture. Felsher’s essays and fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Heavy Feather Review, Fiction Writers Review, São Paulo Review, and Action, Spectacle, among other publications. Zhao’s work explores land and womanhood, decolonization, and regeneration. As an immigrant, Zhao sees film as her third language, and her films have been featured at UnionDocs, DOC NYC, Maysles Cinema, Asian American International Film Festival, Spain Moving Images Festival, Festival of Animated Objects, Microscope Gallery, and other programs.
Additional team members include Guest Editor Vi Khi Nao (Issue 2), Fiction Editor Sean Sam, Prose Editor Avrina Prabala-Joslin, Poetry Editor Paco Márquez, Associate Editor Phil Thompson, Assistant Editor Yana Kane, Editors-at-Large María Ospina and Lisa Richter, and Consulting Editor Minna Zallman Proctor.
For readers, Felsher says, “128 LIT is a dynamic platform and print publication that strives to increase the circulation of vital international voices and artists. It acts as a re-orienting place, collapsing the distances between languages, geographies, and both emerging and established talents. The pieces we publish are often replete with both levity and brutality without devolving into mere spectacle or abandoning the weight of history. We find that a thread that connects many works is the ability for trauma and joy for life and languages to co-exist and operate as an alternating current.”
Some initial contributors include Sarah Ghazal Ali, Shaqayeq Ahmadian, Lara Atallah, Don Mee Choi, Saddiq Dzukogi, Jacques Fux, Kim Hyesoon, Yuliia Iliukha, Mona Kareem, Chime Lama, Fi Jae Lee, Nicole Maloof, Vi Khi Nao, dg nanouk okpik, Tolu Oloruntoba, María Ospina, Jhani Randhawa, Celina Su, Jackie Wang, and Matvei Yankelevich.
For writers looking to submit work to 128 LIT, Felsher explains, “Every submission to our magazine undergoes a rigorous review process to ensure it fits and builds upon the works that comprise our platform. Each piece is read by at least two editors, with a third or fourth occasionally weighing in for an added perspective. Whenever we open for submissions, we receive hundreds, many of which are so compelling. But given our platform’s limited space, decisions can be challenging. Accepted pieces undergo a collaborative editing process: some might need simple line edits, while others might require restructuring to reach their full potential. For translated works, we engage a reader knowledgeable in the language, either from our multilingual masthead or external experts, to ensure translation accuracy. We aim to respond to all submissions within 90 days.”
For others looking to start their own publication, Felsher offers some advice. “So much of running this platform has meant becoming insanely disciplined and rigorous in circulating literature and art without betraying our sensibility and vision. At the same time, we’ve also needed to be flexible and thoughtful, adapting (improvising) to ensure this project continues to be cohesive and compelling without recreating preexisting modes of the socio-economic-literary landscape. We’ve been lucky to experience a lot of enthusiasm and support. We’ve also hosted a few in-person events, all of which have been engaging, inclusive, and have enriched and expanded the scope of the platform. We’re excited to see how we continue to challenge ourselves and build upon what has emerged. One recent highlight was our selection as the winner of CLMP’s Firecracker Award for Best Debut Magazine. Above all, we’ve been deeply touched and inspired by the widespread appreciation and engagement with our pages.”
Looking to the future, Felsher tells us that “128 LIT is excited to expand its platform into publishing chapbooks. We will announce the winner of our inaugural International Chapbook Contest in November of 2023.”