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RQ (Root Quarterly): A New Regional Magazine That Combines Local Art & Culture Along With Information About The City, All In One Beautiful Design – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Publisher & Editor In Chief, Heather Shayne Blakeslee…

July 22, 2019

“What I’m offering people is a chance to reconnect with their attention spans, with their ability to critically think, and with their ability to enjoy long-form profiles of artists and others who are in their city.” Heather Shayne Blakeslee (On why print)…

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story…

Root Quarterly, or RQ as the magazine is lovingly called, is a new title that Publisher and Editor in Chief, Heather Shayne Blakeslee, says is one part magazine, one part collaborative art project, and one part social experiment. The magazine offers insightful and provocative essays, profiles of local makers and artists, cultural criticism, fiction, poetry, and carefully-curated recommendations for getting the most out of life in Philadelphia—including a cocktail or dinner recipe here and there—all in a beautifully designed and printed magazine you can hold in your hands and settle down with on a Sunday afternoon, or argue over at Thursday night happy hour.

I spoke with Heather recently and we talked about this great new title and about its uniqueness in the Regional space. While on the one hand, RQ is a literary magazine that gives you the best in fiction, poetry and essays, it also has all the regional recommendations you could need or want for the city of Philadelphia. It has multiple personalities that lends itself to some fantastic reading and to some knowledgeable information.

And it has a creator who knows the value of a great team and the value of good storytelling. Heather is not only a publisher and editor, but she’s a businessperson, and a musician, keeping her eye on the future of this new print title by focusing on one goal, providing the best high-quality content that she can. With a goal like that, how could she be anything but successful.

So, now let’s get to the “root” of the story about RQ, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with  Heather Shayne Blakeslee, publisher and editor in chief, RQ magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On the genesis of RQ (Root Quarterly) magazine: It had a long and maybe humorous start, going back 10 years or so. I was joking with my brother and he was joking with me. We were at a party in Brooklyn, and he’s kind of a witty guy, so he walked up to me and said, “Hey, didn’t I see you on the cover of Fancy Bitch magazine?” (Laughs) And I started laughing. He’s an art director and photographer and I’m a writer and editor and we had been batting around forever the idea of starting a magazine that was for women, but wasn’t a traditional women’s magazine. I thought about it for a really long time. I restarted the idea of thinking about putting a magazine together and looked at the landscape in Philadelphia and realized that we had very little arts and culture coverage anymore. The city paper, which was one of our main weeklies, went dark. And Philadelphia Weekly, which was still around, was much diminished from the state that it had been in 10 years ago even. And so, there was room for a publication like this, but it really has a dual purpose.

On why she chose print as a component for the magazine: I think people are so used to being able to fly off the handle in comment sections and have knee-jerk reactions to things. What I’m offering people is a chance to reconnect with their attention spans, with their ability to critically think, and with their ability to enjoy long-form profiles of artists and others who are in their city.

On whether any of her friends or colleagues thought she was crazy for starting a print magazine in this digital age: (Laughs) It’s interesting because, actually, the first thing that people say when they see the magazine is, “It is so beautiful. I can’t wait to sit down with this when I have time alone to enjoy it.” I did salons for a year before I started the magazine; I asked friends and colleagues to host salons in their homes. I asked them to create lists of people who might be interested in hearing more about a project like this. We did about seven or eight of them; I probably talked to about 100 people over the course of the year to get really specific feedback. Universally, people said if you do this, we will buy a subscription. They all said they would love to have something like this.

On whether the power of print today is more about just nostalgia: I think it’s absolutely more than nostalgia. One of the things that I’m curious about, frankly, is how un-self-aware we are as a species (Laughs), especially in the last 100 years or so, about the fact that our society has radically changed in the way that we organize ourselves. And our technology has radically changed.  Our minds and our brains and our bodies have not changed that quickly. There is a continuing evolutionary process going on here and we’re not meant to have 2,000 friends. And we’re not meant to organize ourselves even in the large groups that we do now in cities and in nations. And we’re not meant to consume as much information as the human mind consumes. It’s overwhelming to people.

On whether there have been stumbling blocks for her on this magazine journey: There are stumbling blocks at every turn. The main one though is time. I have a small business doing strategy and consulting for non-profit organizations and small businesses and doing editorial services. I have two major clients that I work with and this is the third thing that I’m working on, in addition to also being a musician who records and plays in Philadelphia. I’m on the Board for the local Folksong Society, so there’s a lot going on. Time, for me, is the main thing.

On the “root” origins of the magazine’s name: For me, I am a gardener and a plant person. And I am a lay biologist, so that’s a big world that’s important to me. I am not from Philadelphia, I’m from Central Pennsylvania. So for me, part of it is just being rooted in this particular region. It’s being rooted in, as I said, our own reality, rather than the online world, which is much more easily manipulated. And it’s about trying to connect and grow with other people and creating an intentional community of people who want this kind of thing in their lives.

On what she would hope to tell someone a year from now that she had accomplished with the magazine: I hope we’ve attracted additional investment; I hope our print runs have gone up; and I hope that we have attracted the people, whether they are writers and artists, or subscribers and supporters, who want to continue to make the project grow. We have already exceeded our very modest expectations that we set for ourselves in the first year. I was thinking if we got 250 people to subscribe the first year, that would make me happy and it would help to pay for some of the print runs. And nearly 100 people, some of them sight unseen, not even having seen a copy of the magazine, have subscribed already. (Laughs) And we’re just getting started and I think there’s a lot of room for growth on that and a lot of potential.

On anything she’d like to add: Yes, because you’re a magazine person, and maybe would be interested in the kind of hybrid that we’ve come up with. I don’t think that I have seen anywhere, especially in the U.S., a quarterly magazine that is both a city magazine, in that it will offer people the carefully curated recommendations of things that are happening in the city of makers, artists, destination restaurants, and other things like that, but that will also be publishing fiction, poetry, essays, and profiles of artists. It really is splitting the difference between a city magazine and an arts and culture journal.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home: First of all, often in the evening, and this is the other reason why I suppose we’re able to do this because it’s really being done in partnership with many people, including my life partner, Walter, who is our copy chief, he and I read books aloud to each other in the evening. And often on things that we end up wanting to write about or have others write about in the magazine, we spar all the time on arguments and exposing each other to new thinkers, new writers and authors. So, a lot of our evenings are spent doing that. That’s sort of how our relationship is based, I suppose.

On the biggest misconception she thinks people have about her: That’s a super interesting question. (Laughs) I’m not sure I have an easy answer to that. People who know me well, who have either worked for me for a long time or have been my friend for a long time, or both, I think they recognize that I can come across as somewhat stern or very demanding, but that’s born from a desire to do really good work. Being demanding of the people who are around you is okay as long as you give them equal support, love and attention.

On what keeps her up at night: Oh gosh, so many things. (Laughs) I did sustainability work for a really long time, more than 10 years, and I think we continue to degrade our level of discourse to the point where we may not be able to solve issues like climate change or we may not be able to reconcile our modern world with the more modest ways that our bodies and our brains have evolved. That we may create things that destroy us. That’s the main thing that keeps me up at night, whether it’s the threat of nuclear war or the threat of climate change or the threat of AI advancing more quickly. I’m totally with Yuval Harari on that trifecta of monsters that keeps us up.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Heather Shayne Blakeslee, publisher and editor in chief, RQ (Root Quarterly) magazine.

Samir Husni: Tell me about the genesis of RQ (Root Quarterly).

Heather Shayne Blakeslee: It had a long and maybe humorous start, going back 10 years or so. I was joking with my brother and he was joking with me. We were at a party in Brooklyn, and he’s kind of a witty guy, so he walked up to me and said, “Hey, didn’t I see you on the cover of Fancy Bitch magazine?” (Laughs) And I started laughing. He’s an art director and photographer and I’m a writer and editor and we had been batting around forever the idea of starting a magazine that was for women, but wasn’t a traditional women’s magazine. I thought about it for a really long time.

I started working about four or five years ago at a small, independent publisher in Philadelphia. And ended up being the editor of one of the magazines there. And I realized how much I loved putting print magazines together and learned how to do it there. After the 2016 election, I realized in part that the level of civil discourse in the country  and the level of journalism had deteriorated to the point where people couldn’t talk to one another anymore, even if they had a small disagreement about something. And that was due in part to social media. And to people not getting together in rooms face-to-face.

So, I restarted the idea of thinking about putting a magazine together and looked at the landscape in Philadelphia and realized that we had very little arts and culture coverage anymore. The city paper, which was one of our main weeklies, went dark. And Philadelphia Weekly, which was still around, was much diminished from the state that it had been in 10 years ago even. And so, there was room for a publication like this, but it really has a dual purpose. One is arts and culture in Philadelphia, and ideas, essays, and analyses from mostly writers from here. Although, I’m open to a handful of people occasionally in each of the issues weighing in that are not from this region. But part of it is also around re-teaching ourselves critical thinking skills, analysis, and rhetoric.

Samir Husni: And you don’t think digital would have helped with that?

Heather Shayne Blakeslee: I don’t, because I think people are so used to being able to fly off the handle in comment sections and have knee-jerk reactions to things. What I’m offering people is a chance to reconnect with their attention spans, with their ability to critically think, and with their ability to enjoy long-form profiles of artists and others who are in their city.

Samir Husni: Did any of your friends or colleagues ask you if were you out of your mind for doing a print magazine in this digital age?

 Heather Shayne Blakeslee: (Laughs) It’s interesting because, actually, the first thing that people say when they see the magazine is, “It is so beautiful. I can’t wait to sit down with this when I have time alone to enjoy it.” I did salons for a year before I started the magazine; I asked friends and colleagues to host salons in their homes. I asked them to create lists of people who might be interested in hearing more about a project like this. We did about seven or eight of them; I probably talked to about 100 people over the course of the year to get really specific feedback. Universally, people said if you do this, we will buy a subscription. They all said they would love to have something like this.

So, I definitely wouldn’t have done it if the reaction had been tepid or lukewarm, but lots of people were really excited about it. I also had offers of help, people who offered to donate some money. I had offers where people said they would like to host one of these, could I come and talk to their friends. So, I’m going to keep doing that and keep connecting with people in person.

Certainly, there are people who have said, “Heather, are you crazy?” (Laughs) But they also have said, “If anybody can do it, you can do it.” So, I’m just going to continue on with the experiment, and it’s an experiment that may fail, but we’re going to give it our best shot.

Samir Husni: Can you elaborate a little on the power of print in this digital age, because one of the accusations that I receive is that I’m so nostalgic. Is it nostalgia or is there more to the power of print in today’s world?

Heather Shayne Blakeslee: I think it’s absolutely more than nostalgia. One of the things that I’m curious about, frankly, is how un-self-aware we are as a species (Laughs), especially in the last 100 years or so, about the fact that our society has radically changed in the way that we organize ourselves. And our technology has radically changed.  Our minds and our brains and our bodies have not changed that quickly. There is a continuing evolutionary process going on here and we’re not meant to have 2,000 friends. And we’re not meant to organize ourselves even in the large groups that we do now in cities and in nations. And we’re not meant to consume as much information as the human mind consumes. It’s overwhelming to people.

And it absolutely makes sense to me that we medicate ourselves with drugs, and don’t pay attention to what we eat, and we wonder why everyone is anxious and suppressed. I think even more than just thinking of it as a magazine, it’s really a way to reconnect with the idea that we have to slow down and be more mindful. And we have to accept that our minds are not equipped to handle the digital age. But we keep telling ourselves it’s progress, so I don’t think it’s nostalgia, I think it’s just an acknowledgement of our reality.

Samir Husni: Has it been a walk in a rose garden for you from the time you conceived of the idea and executed it? Or has there been some stumbling blocks along the way?

Heather Shayne Blakeslee: There are stumbling blocks at every turn. The main one though is time. I have a small business doing strategy and consulting for non-profit organizations and small businesses and doing editorial services. I have two major clients that I work with and this is the third thing that I’m working on, in addition to also being a musician who records and plays in Philadelphia. I’m on the Board for the local Folksong Society, so there’s a lot going on. Time, for me, is the main thing.

Money will come from being able to invest in the project and I’ve seen that already. Producing a really high-quality product and being explicit about what the vision of the magazine is has really been great, in terms of attracting investment and people who are supportive of it. But time is a huge issue and being able to find the right team of people who are willing to work as volunteers for as long as they need to. But we’ve been able to assemble a really great team over the course of the last year and I absolutely would not be able to do this without their support.

The biggest, almost-snafu was losing our designer the week before we went to print with almost nothing finished. Luckily, I’ve been working in the business world for a long time and my first instinct was, okay, how do I fix this? And I just got on my phone and texted the designer in town that I knew ideated and executed work quicker than anyone I knew, and he’s also a joy to work with. And he designed a beautiful magazine in six days, even with a full-time job and moving that week. So, having the right team of people who are dedicated and willing to get onboard behind you is just absolutely critical.

Samir Husni: Here’s a question where the pun is intended; what’s the “root” of the name of the magazine?

Heather Shayne Blakeslee: (Laughs) For me, I am a gardener and a plant person. And I am a lay biologist, so that’s a big world that’s important to me. I am not from Philadelphia, I’m from Central Pennsylvania. So for me, part of it is just being rooted in this particular region. It’s being rooted in, as I said, our own reality, rather than the online world, which is much more easily manipulated. And it’s about trying to connect and grow with other people and creating an intentional community of people who want this kind of thing in their lives.

Samir Husni: Heather, if you and I are having this conversation a year from now, what would you hope to tell me you had accomplished with the magazine?

Heather Shayne Blakeslee: I hope we’ve attracted additional investment; I hope our print runs have gone up; and I hope that we have attracted the people, whether they are writers and artists, or subscribers and supporters, who want to continue to make the project grow. We have already exceeded our very modest expectations that we set for ourselves in the first year. I was thinking if we got 250 people to subscribe the first year, that would make me happy and it would help to pay for some of the print runs. And nearly 100 people, some of them sight unseen, not even having seen a copy of the magazine, have subscribed already. (Laughs) And we’re just getting started and I think there’s a lot of room for growth on that and a lot of potential.

Samir Husni: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Heather Shayne Blakeslee: Yes, because you’re a magazine person, and maybe would be interested in the kind of hybrid that we’ve come up with. I don’t think that I have seen anywhere, especially in the U.S., a quarterly magazine that is both a city magazine, in that it will offer people the carefully curated recommendations of things that are happening in the city of makers, artists, destination restaurants, and other things like that, but that will also be publishing fiction, poetry, essays, and profiles of artists. It really is splitting the difference between a city magazine and an arts and culture journal.

The closest thing that I can think of would be The New Yorker, but of course that’s a huge operation and a weekly and it also has national interest, but that is a little bit of what I’m thinking. I looked at magazines like Harper’s, The Atlantic, and The New Yorker, but also the London-based magazine, Riposte, is something that I enjoy. California Sunday Magazine is another that I really enjoy.

I also don’t see people paying enough attention to the design of the magazines. That is also really important to me, to have very high-production quality. And very, very good design, because I think if you’re going to ask people to subscribe to a print journal at this point, it kind of has to be an art object that they want to put on their coffee table and that they will not usually put into a recycling bin.

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; gardening; watching TV; or something else? How do you unwind?

Heather Shayne Blakeslee: (Laughs) All of those things. First of all, often in the evening, and this is the other reason why I suppose we’re able to do this because it’s really being done in partnership with many people, including my life partner, Walter, who is our copy chief, he and I read books aloud to each other in the evening. And often on things that we end up wanting to write about or have others write about in the magazine, we spar all the time on arguments and exposing each other to new thinkers, new writers and authors. So, a lot of our evenings are spent doing that. That’s sort of how our relationship is based, I suppose.

I’m also a musician, I’m a singer/songwriter that does folk and Americana. I have a new record coming out in the fall with a band called Sweetbriar Rose that I’ve led for many years. And I also have been playing the cello for the last five years, so that gets me into a very meditative state and gets me away from words and into music and vibrations; just kind of centering myself in that way.

And I definitely spend a lot of time gardening, and I do cook to relax as well, but often I’m also listening to a podcast, usually Sam Harris, whose podcast used to be called “Waking Up” and is now called “Making Sense.” He’s one of my favorites.

It’s interesting because I’m also targeting this magazine at Gen Xers and Boomers; any enlightened millennials are welcomed to come along for the ride as well. (Laughs) I had a “Letter to the Editor” once at the magazine I was working at a couple of years ago that was interesting because it was about an editorial concerning my editor’s notes, and she failed to realize that the editor’s notes were in dialogue with the entire magazine that came after it.

And it was curious to me because I was thinking about it and these are people who just download songs. They don’t see the album anymore. And I think musicians are a little bit more tuned into the fact that we do think of things a little more holistically.

Samir Husni: What do you think is the biggest misconception that people have about you?

Heather Shayne Blakeslee: That’s a super interesting question. (Laughs) I’m not sure I have an easy answer to that. People who know me well, who have either worked for me for a long time or have been my friend for a long time, or both, I think they recognize that I can come across as somewhat stern or very demanding, but that’s born from a desire to do really good work. Being demanding of the people who are around you is okay as long as you give them equal support, love and attention.

I think that’s one of the reasons that the group of people that I have right now, who have gravitated toward the project, because they too are often more intellectual and not as emotional as other people are. But I can guarantee you I bleed just as red as everybody else and I’ve had my heart broken just as many times. (Laughs) I think I just have a disposition that bends toward rationality and reason and calm.

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

Heather Shayne Blakeslee: Oh gosh, so many things. (Laughs) I did sustainability work for a really long time, more than 10 years, and I think we continue to degrade our level of discourse to the point where we may not be able to solve issues like climate change or we may not be able to reconcile our modern world with the more modest ways that our bodies and our brains have evolved. That we may create things that destroy us. That’s the main thing that keeps me up at night, whether it’s the threat of nuclear war or the threat of climate change or the threat of AI advancing more quickly. I’m totally with Yuval Harari on that trifecta of monsters that keeps us up.

And this magazine is in some ways a response to all of that and trying to get people to slow down, recognize the world that’s around them, including the existential threats that we face right now as a species with climate change.

Samir Husni: Thank you.  

 

 

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