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Interview with Paulette Licitra

Published July 23, 2012

The biannual Alimentum: The Literature of Food is a passionate, aesthetically pleasing print magazine filled with poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction. It has been lauded in such places as the New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, and The Times Literary Supplement. In 2010 it won Gourmand’s International World Cookbook award for “Best Food Magazine in the World.” In July 2012 it will become on-line only.

I recently spoke with Publisher Paulette Licitra about the decision to go online, electronic vs. print submissions and other nuts-and-bolts details involved in switching formats, as well as Alimentum’s “Eat and Greet” tours and what we can expect next from this excellent publication.

I caught up with Licitra right before she headed out for a gig of “Duette,” the acoustic band she plays in with partner Duane Spencer, Alimentum’s Music Editor. Licitra recently moved from New York City to Nashville, Tennessee where, in addition to making music and publishing a magazine, the Institute of Culinary Education graduate teaches Italian cooking classes. Here are the highlights of our conversation:

How did you get into food writing?

I don’t even think of Alimentum necessarily as “food writing.” Alimentum is this funny thing in the middle because it’s fiction and creative writing and it’s poetry, but it’s about food—so some people think of it as “food writing.”

The magazine started as a bridge between literary writing and food, since they were a big part of my life. Some lit mags do food-themed issues once in a while, but I wondered: why not a journal that was food all the time? We started in 2005 and we still get terrific submissions from writers who somehow incorporate food as a catalyst or character in their stories and poems.

We have a diverse audience—including people who read Saveur and Bon Appetit and are interested in recipes and who’s the trendiest chef and all that stuff—but then they get into Alimentum and it’s a whole other thing. A lot of lit journals might have readers who love to read literature, but we also have people who just love food. That’s what helps us—we’ve got a couple of audiences.

Alimentum is a very successful print magazine—it’s been written up in the New York Times and gotten lots of other good press, and the layout is gorgeous. . . . Tell us why you decided to go online.

Partly for financial reasons and partly because we were looking to reach a bigger audience. We’re not associated with a university budget. We have sponsors who help pay our costs, but in this economy it was getting harder. Then there was this pull to make the website bigger—so we made the decision to switch over.

It’s almost as if Alimentum is busting out and can’t be contained between those two small covers! We have a fabulous web editor, Eric LeMay, who is also a terrific writer, and he has a million great ideas for the website. The home page is a menagerie of pictures and places to jump into. It looks like a salon-style gallery of images, but each picture will bring you to a piece of content: food-related fiction, nonfiction, poetry, book reviews, recipe poems (poems you can cook from), art galleries, songs, “Eat and Greet” events, Alimentum news, and a store for cool food-related stuff. We’ll also have a department called “featurettes” which will be mostly videos from the field on food-related experiences. And we’ll feature favorite food blogs from around the country and the world.

Will it be free?

Totally free.

How will that affect the current subscribers?

We told our subscribers that we’ll be starting an Alimentum Press, with a “Best of Alimentum” Anthology, and also single author books—like a collection of poetry or short stories of writers we’ve worked with. We’re offering any subscribers who have subscriptions left these future books. They seem pretty excited about that.

Will the website content be updated frequently?

We’re thinking definitely monthly for all of the features, and for some we may change more frequently.

Will this change anything about the type of work you look for? I know the fiction is already pretty short so should lend itself well, but sometimes, at least in journalism, people go for extra-snappy-sounding writing on the Internet. Will that affect the writing?

No—the only thing that will be affected is length. We’ve been wrestling over longer pieces—over 2,000 words—that we love, thinking of how we might make them episodic.

We still want our kind of literature. We want the sensibility that is Alimentum. That is very hard to describe but we know what we want when we see it. I think our readers get it and that’s what they love too, and we want to keep with that tradition.

It’s not only about the food because it is literature . . . so it’s not just straight, like an ode-to-an-orange kind of thing; it’s got to have some personal mix in there, and it’s got to have a voice and a story. Food is such a deep part of everybody’s life that if someone can express what that relationship is it can be pretty amazing.

We’ll also continue our “Eat and Greet Tours.” We’ve done a lot of them in Nashville, and one in New York, but more are coming. I also took a small group of avid cooks on a trip to Rome, Italy to food shop and cook there. That’s another audience opening up.

The tour in New York was a two-day tour. We explored the great culinary neighborhoods in Queens, and when we’d take a break from eating and shopping, we’d sit at a café and do some writing. We do other tours where it’s mostly about food and not about writing. We’ve visited cafes that do their own coffee roasting, artisanal chocolate makers, CSA farms, restaurant kitchens . . . we did an Indian Culture tour in Nashville, and visited a Hindu temple where the guide talked to us about Hinduism and gave us a tour, and then we had a wonderful Indian lunch. So it was a culture-plus-food experience.

We’re making videos of the tours too, and they’re becoming little stories on their own.

Generally when people hear a magazine is going online, they’re like, “Oh no! That’s the end of that publication!” I was going to ask you why Alimentum is going to be different, but it sounds like you’re answering that.

That’s exactly how and why it will be different.

I’ve gotten several letters from people expressing a lot of sadness—one bookstore, Kitchen Arts & Letters up in New York, wrote “We’ve been carrying you from day one . . . I’m so sorry to hear this but I know that wherever you’re going, it’s going to be great. . . .” Our readers really love the journal and are sad to see the print edition go, but they seem to be equally excited about the new format.

How are you going to archive the web issues?

That’s something our web editors are trying to figure out, but everything is going to be there. You’ll be able to access whatever’s been online. All of the back print issues are still available (except for #1). They are for sale and many people collect them. We’re also going to have a store with cool food-related items.

Up to now you’ve only been accepting submissions by snail mail. Is this going to continue?

It’s so funny that this is an issue. The other day Eric, our Web Editor, and Ruth Polleys, our Assistant Web Editor, were trying to convince me to use a submission manager online. I still don’t understand why that’s important. Peter Selgin, our Fiction and Nonfiction Editor, and Cortney Davis, our Poetry Editor, and I seem fine with the snail mail (maybe we just have luddite brains or something), but I’ve been told: “Now that you’re an online journal you should be accepting submissions digitally.” I don’t know. What do you think?

I think one reason it’s supposed to be easier is that when you accept the work you can actually cut and paste it into the publication. . . .

Once we accept a piece of writing, we ask them to send us a word doc.

Well, I can think of a reason not to do it—it’s pretty easy to submit online, and I wonder whether the added steps you have to take to submit it via snail mail might mean that you’d get better work. 

I don’t know—Eric was saying you might get more submissions too. . . . 

But do you want them?

I remember in the beginning, when we accepted e-mail submissions, that Cortney noticed poems sometimes lost their formatting. But I’m sure with a submission manager program that probably doesn’t happen.

But I just thought of a possible plus: now that we’re an online journal, when you’re reading a submission on your computer, rather than a piece of paper, it can help you better visualize how the piece works for a digital format . . . maybe that’s a reason there.

Right. But maybe you should hold firm—especially now because you’re doing so many new things. I assume the amount of submissions would go way up as people receive links from each other and are like “Oh, I should submit here. . . . ”

Which is great—I’d love to get twice the amount of submissions.

Alimentum debuted online on July 4. To check out their great new features and find out whether they decide to begin using a submission manager, stay tuned to their website:


Tanya Angell Allen is a writer from New Haven, Connecticut. Her poems and essays have been published in such places as The Lyric, Expansive Poetry & Music, and The New York Times.

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