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Perfect Strangers Magazine: Bringing The World & Its Many Cultures Together For The “Perfect” Introduction – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Alice Xiang, Founder, Editor And Publisher…

October 24, 2018

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story…

“I also love that there’s a certain intimacy that comes with print magazines. Digital content remains contained in our devices; print magazines become a part of the messy physical fabric of our daily lives. They ‘live’ in our homes: squeezed under a sofa cushion, sprawled out on a coffee table, propped next to the bed or biscuit tin. You can delete an app or close a browser window in a second, but there’s something odd about chucking a printed book or magazine; you usually end up passing it on to a friend or family member, or donating it.” Alice Xiang…

Perfect Strangers is a magazine dedicated to bringing the world together and exploring the cross-cultural. The burning question for the concept is: how does the world meet itself? Founder of the magazine, Alice Xiang, seeks to answer that curiosity by producing a magazine that features people from all walks of life that help to connect the world. From artists and entrepreneurs to grandparents and lovers and through their perspectives, the magazine looks at how cultures and languages, habits and ideas, styles and foods, intertwine and transform.

I spoke with Alice recently and she shared a bit about her background and how it fuses with the magazine “perfectly.” She herself is no “stranger” (puns intended) to the cross-cultural; before launching Perfect Strangers, she completed a Ph.D. in comparative literature, doing her dissertation on cosmopolitanism, specifically on an interconnected set of writers in early 20th-century Shanghai, Istanbul, and Paris. Alice said, “In some ways, I suppose “Perfect Strangers” is the magazine form of what I was up to academically.” And Mr. Magazine™ thinks it’s a great print transformation.

Interconnecting the world is a worthy goal and the magazine does it beautifully with its printed pages and colorful pictures. The content between those pages is on point and well written. Published twice a year, Perfect Strangers is a welcomed addition to newsstands.

So, without further ado, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with founder, editor, and publisher of Perfect Strangers magazine, Alice Xiang.

But first the sound-bites:

On the genesis of Perfect Strangers: Partly as a result of how I grew up —which involved a fair bit of moving between cities and countries— I’ve always been fascinated by how cultures meet and mix. For years, I’d been on the lookout for a magazine focused on the cross-cultural; a magazine in which I could read about Nepalese filmmakers in Montréal, perhaps, or Chinese students in Cairo, and everything beyond and between. A magazine that would both make me feel ‘at home’ and connected to others with a similarly complex sense of belonging, but also push me beyond what I already thought and knew about these matters.

On why she felt the magazine would be best served in print rather than a digital-only product: I wanted Perfect Strangers to be something to cherish and immerse oneself in, on both an aesthetic and mental level. It’s much harder, of course, to reach the average reader than it would be with a website or digital magazine. But once you do —once someone picks up a physical copy—it’s much easier to pull that reader out of their usual routine, out of their stream of distractions, and into the little universe of your magazine. There’s a certain stubbornness to the thing-ness of a printed object that commands a different kind of engagement. I settled on the print format because I was very drawn to creating that ‘oasis of attention’ for readers.

On her own professional background: Before launching Perfect Strangers, I’d just completed a Ph.D. in comparative literature. My dissertation was on cosmopolitanism, specifically on an interconnected set of writers in early 20th-century Shanghai, Istanbul, and Paris. In some ways, I suppose ‘Perfect Strangers’ is the magazine form of what I was up to academically.

On what role she thinks print will play in the future: As we become inundated with digital and multimedia content, print will increasingly be seen as a kind of refuge, as a special medium for a different kind of attention. And I think that refuge, that difference of attention, will provide fertile ground for various kinds of creative and political expression.

On how she came up with the name: Benedict Anderson came up with the idea that every nation is an ‘imagined community,’ since most of its members will never actually meet, and yet they nevertheless think of themselves as part of the same group. I wanted to allude to that contradiction, which is inherent to any large-scale community. ‘Perfect Strangers’ has connotations of distance and alienation, but also of positivity and playfulness.

On her most pleasant moment with the launch: Editors often talk about the moment they receive the first printed copy of the magazine as their favorite. That wasn’t mine at all; I was terrified. I was so worried that I’d open the magazine and notice all kinds of irrevocable and embarrassing mistakes. I don’t have one moment in particular that stands out the most. I’d say the process contained a series of moments of delight — of me being surprised by the generosity of, well, perfect strangers.

On her biggest challenge: Being a one-person team. It was overwhelming to have to take care of every single aspect of the magazine. I started out rather naïvely, not realizing that being an editor-publisher involves a lot more than simply ‘editing.’ There was so much fiddling about with images, with titles and captions and lists, with italicization and formatting gone rogue, etc. Every single inch of a magazine needs to be attended to, often multiple times, before it goes off to print. Not to mention scheduling, distribution, marketing, invoicing…

On what she would have tattooed upon her brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about her: Nothing! —I don’t mean that facetiously. I think most people undergo constant change and transformation, even if it seems imperceptible day-to-day. I don’t think I’m a consistent enough person for a brain tattoo. Your question reminds me of a book by Louis Sachar that I read when I was little, in which a character decides to get a tattoo of a potato, because that’s the one thing they were sure they wouldn’t get tired of… As a child I found that incredibly wise and sensible.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly at her home one evening: I have a one-year-old, so you might well find me reading a book to her. Got to instill that love of print early on, right? We’re currently waiting to see what her first word will be: Turkish (my husband’s mother tongue), Chinese (my parents’), or English (mine). The race is on!

On what keeps her up at night: The number of unanswered emails in my inbox.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with founder, editor, and publisher, Alice Xiang, Perfect Strangers magazine.

Samir Husni: Tell me about the genesis of Perfect Strangers.

Alice Xiang: Partly as a result of how I grew up —which involved a fair bit of moving between cities and countries— I’ve always been fascinated by how cultures meet and mix. For years, I’d been on the lookout for a magazine focused on the cross-cultural; a magazine in which I could read about Nepalese filmmakers in Montréal, perhaps, or Chinese students in Cairo, and everything beyond and between. A magazine that would both make me feel ‘at home’ and connected to others with a similarly complex sense of belonging, but also push me beyond what I already thought and knew about these matters.

I was lying in bed one night when it struck me that I should perhaps just go ahead and create this magazine that I’d never been able to find. I sat up then and there with a jolt of excitement, and was unable to sleep for several hours afterwards from the sheer adrenaline of the idea. As someone with no background or experience in media, but with plenty of passion for the subject and for the written word, it felt like just the right mix of ‘well-this-is-completely-bonkers’ and ‘OK-I-can-do-this’.

“Does the world need another magazine?” is a question I’ve asked myself many times since then. There are so many beautifully made magazines out there that serve just about every niche one can think of. Still, I was convinced there was a bit of space left in the landscape for something like Perfect Strangers. There are so many people across the world who are fascinated by, or whose lives have been defined by, the cross-cultural. Making a publication for and about this global readership still gets me excited every day.

Samir Husni: Why did you feel Perfect Strangers is best served in print rather than an online entity?

Alice Xiang: I wanted Perfect Strangers to be something to cherish and immerse oneself in, on both an aesthetic and mental level. It’s much harder, of course, to reach the average reader than it would be with a website or digital magazine. But once you do —once someone picks up a physical copy—it’s much easier to pull that reader out of their usual routine, out of their stream of distractions, and into the little universe of your magazine. There’s a certain stubbornness to the thing-ness of a printed object that commands a different kind of engagement. I settled on the print format because I was very drawn to creating that ‘oasis of attention’ for readers.

I also love that there’s a certain intimacy that comes with print magazines. Digital content remains contained in our devices; print magazines become a part of the messy physical fabric of our daily lives. They ‘live’ in our homes: squeezed under a sofa cushion, sprawled out on a coffee table, propped next to the bed or biscuit tin. You can delete an app or close a browser window in a second, but there’s something odd about chucking a printed book or magazine; you usually end up passing it on to a friend or family member, or donating it.

With print also comes certain standards. You feel like you have to ‘make it count’, to make what you’re printing worthwhile and memorable. It’s a beneficial kind of pressure to have.

Samir Husni: Tell me about your own professional background.

Alice Xiang: Before launching Perfect Strangers, I’d just completed a Ph.D. in comparative literature. My dissertation was on cosmopolitanism, specifically on an interconnected set of writers in early 20th-century Shanghai, Istanbul, and Paris. In some ways, I suppose ‘Perfect Strangers’ is the magazine form of what I was up to academically.

Samir Husni: What role do you feel print will play in 2018 and beyond with the multimedia mix that’s out there today?

Alice Xiang: Initially, print and digital were viewed as inherently antagonistic mediums. But now that digital has become the norm for media consumption, that relationship has shifted. Whatever becomes dominant also loses its ‘edge,’ its special aura, due to that very dominance. And so, for me, online and print media have now become complementary to one another. The same person can be a voracious consumer of media on their smartphone and at the same time —precisely because of this— be deeply appreciative of the tactile and aesthetic qualities unique to print.

As we become inundated with digital and multimedia content, print will increasingly be seen as a kind of refuge, as a special medium for a different kind of attention. And I think that refuge, that difference of attention, will provide fertile ground for various kinds of creative and political expression.

Samir Husni: How did you come up with the name “Perfect Strangers?”

Alice Xiang: Benedict Anderson came up with the idea that every nation is an ‘imagined community,’ since most of its members will never actually meet, and yet they nevertheless think of themselves as part of the same group. I wanted to allude to that contradiction, which is inherent to any large-scale community. ‘Perfect Strangers’ has connotations of distance and alienation, but also of positivity and playfulness. I like to think it also hints at the beauty and power of our imaginations when it comes to thinking about, and empathizing with, people different from ourselves. Also, I have a weak spot for puns — the name could have turned out a lot worse.

Samir Husni: What would you consider the most pleasant moment you have experienced during this magazine launch journey?

Alice Xiang: Editors often talk about the moment they receive the first printed copy of the magazine as their favorite. That wasn’t mine at all; I was terrified. I was so worried that I’d open the magazine and notice all kinds of irrevocable and embarrassing mistakes.

I don’t have one moment in particular that stands out the most. I’d say the process contained a series of moments of delight — of me being surprised by the generosity of, well, perfect strangers. From potential interviewees to bookshops in countries I’ve never visited, I sent an absurd number of ‘cold’ emails to people who had absolutely no reason to give me any of their time or take me seriously, and yet who did. The magazine is really an accumulation of the generosities of many people.

Samir Husni: And what has been the biggest challenge that you’ve had to face and how did you overcome it?

Alice Xiang: Being a one-person team. It was overwhelming to have to take care of every single aspect of the magazine. I started out rather naïvely, not realizing that being an editor-publisher involves a lot more than simply ‘editing.’ There was so much fiddling about with images, with titles and captions and lists, with italicization and formatting gone rogue, etc. Every single inch of a magazine needs to be attended to, often multiple times, before it goes off to print. Not to mention scheduling, distribution, marketing, invoicing…

This is frankly a challenge I’ve yet to overcome — I am constantly behind! But there’s a wonderful upside to it all: the magazine is extremely ‘nimble,’ and truly independent, in the sense that there’s a single point of creative and editorial control. Which is worth all the late nights, in the end. And there are inspiring one-person teams who’ve accomplished brilliant things with their magazines —like Kai Brach of Offscreen, or Les Jones of Elsie Magazine— to draw strength from. Their examples are a reminder to stay optimistic: to keep working hard and improving upon what you do, and to remember that ultimately your biggest limitations can also be your greatest strengths.

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

Alice Xiang: Nothing! —I don’t mean that facetiously. I think most people undergo constant change and transformation, even if it seems imperceptible day-to-day. I don’t think I’m a consistent enough person for a brain tattoo. Your question reminds me of a book by Louis Sachar that I read when I was little, in which a character decides to get a tattoo of a potato, because that’s the one thing they were sure they wouldn’t get tired of… As a child I found that incredibly wise and sensible.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; watching TV; or something else? How do you unwind?

Alice Xiang: I have a one-year-old, so you might well find me reading a book to her. Got to instill that love of print early on, right? We’re currently waiting to see what her first word will be: Turkish (my husband’s mother tongue), Chinese (my parents’), or English (mine). The race is on!

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Alice Xiang: The number of unanswered emails in my inbox.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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