This is my (hvnly) first post at Dismantle, not as a contributing writer or an editorial intern, but as the Senior Editor (a title I still can’t believe). My co-conspirator and newly dubbed Managing Editor, Justin Duyao, and I knew we needed to introduce ourselves to new and old readers, but we didn’t want to write a boring introduction paragraph where we listed all our achievements. We want readers to get to know us as the charmingly chaotic duo that agreed to take on this task together.
Once a week, we get together and talk over the phone about anything and everything. We are in the process of recording some of those conversations (more on that later, like later-later, forget I said anything about it until I bring it up again), but I wanted to share a transcript of one of our conversations about what it meant to each of us to step up and manage Dismantle.
I speak for both of us when I say that we are adamantly, enthusiastically, and gushingly excited to be here, in these roles, in the space Sara and Elise created. The honor and trust bestowed when they handed us their baby cannot be overstated. I’m excited to share what we’ve been dreaming about, the writers and artists we’ve had the pleasure of working with, and the endless unfolding of Dismantle through the dark abyss of space.
hvnly: Okay, Justin… we are in charge of a magazine now? When Elise and Sara first brought up that they were looking for new leadership, I was already composing a message to you before they finished asking. I asked you, “DO YOU WANT TO RUN DISMANTLE WITH ME???” What were you thinking when you read that message?
Justin Duyao: I didn’t even have to think before I told you: “Yes, duh, of course.” I’ll speak for both of us when I say this is a dream we’ve been dreaming our whole lives. So, even though it’s happening—we are officially joining the Dismantle team as Senior Editor (HL) and Managing Editor (JD)—it still doesn’t feel quite real.
I first heard about Dismantle while taking Sara’s “Introduction to Cultural Studies” class at PNCA in 2020 (… the best of times, the worst of times). I met Elise the following year when I first pitched both of them an essay about the ways objects hold onto memories. But you, HL, have worked with both our predecessors much more closely.
Tell us about your last few months on staff at Dismantle! I’ve just gotta know… what goes on behind the curtain?
HL: Well, I only began working with them after you recommended me! I believe Sara had mentioned to you that she was interested in an editorial intern, and you suggested she reach out to me!
I love writing, but I’ve always been more interested in the editorial side of things. I read a lot and, in recent years, I’ve become more interested in what happened in the cutting room. Getting a chance to work with Sara and Elise at Dismantle has been a wonderful introduction to the world of editing. Along the way, I’ve also learned that I’m actually pretty good at it. Sara and Elise gave me the chance I craved to grow as a reader, writer, and editor.
It’s always a fun and interesting challenge to shift my tone and style to make sure that any changes I suggest are in line with the vibe and vision of the writer. I never want anyone to feel like they are losing their voice, which means I often have to adapt my own when suggesting edits. I’m excited to grow Dismantle as a space where writers can be as weird and creative as they like and not feel like their unique style was left on the cutting room floor.
But when this opportunity arose, I knew that it wasn’t something I could do on my own. I mean, like I said, I love writing, but I don’t do it daily. I knew I needed someone who wrote and wrote a lot, and Justin, you write more than anyone I know. I imagine that you sit up in bed, slap the typewriter on your lap right there, and begin. Don’t correct me. I want this to be true.
JD: The funny thing about writing is that… is exactly what it looks like. As a kid, I had a million ideas about what “being a writer” was supposed to look like. (Think: mahogany desk under big window overlooking gurgling creek.) But the reality is that I do some of my best work in bed. I also generally prefer the “Notes” app over a typewriter , but tomayto tomahto.
Anyway, yeah, you’re right, I spend much more time writing than I do editing. Although I sincerely love both, I’d say I identify *deep down* as a writer (which is to say I could go my whole life without editing, but I wouldn’t last a week without writing).
That said, I also believe all good writers are—at their core—good editors. And vice versa. Joan Didion defined a writer as “a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent arranging words on pieces of paper” . I adore that quote. If you’re a writer, you know exactly what she means. If you’re an editor, let’s be honest, you probably understand that obsession far better than most folks who call themselves “writers.”
My point is that the whole point of both writing and editing is—to quote Didion once again—“an attempt to find out what matters, to find the pattern in disorder, to find the grammar in the shimmer” . Speaking of finding the pattern in disorder, my dear Heaven-Leigh, this feels like a ripe opportunity to tell these lovely folks what we have in mind as the new editors of Dismantle.
HL: (I wouldn’t let you put any quotes in our “About” section because I said it felt too much like the introduction to a college essay, so I see you sneaking them in here. What you’ll learn about Justin soon enough is that he loves quotes.)
We spent a lot of time in those early days talking about what we wanted Dismantle to be. Granted, we have it easy because Sara and Elise built a foundation that could withstand a hurricane; now that we’ve moved in, all we have to do is keep building.
More than anything, I want things to get weird. There are so many talented writers and artists out there who aren’t sure where to start, where to submit their work, whom to ask to take a chance on them. If that’s you, we want you to make yourself at home here at Dismantle.
We kind of landed on this phrase “we believe in a universe that doesn’t care, but people who do.” I hope people see us as a space where exciting future-making happens—through essays, prose, poetry, art, and hybridizations of all of the above. I want to read not only about what’s wrong and what we need to change, but also how we can change and what a new world might look like.
I’ll take a page from Justin and add a quote from the historian and academic Robin D. G. Kelley, who said: “Without new visions we don’t know what to build, only what to knock down” . I want to read those visions.
JD: Couldn’t have said it better myself.
We want you to go out on a limb. We want you to bend the rules to their breaking point… and then keep bending. As editors, we believe that’s the only way to make art that matters at the end of the world: It has to be as inclusive as it is incisive; it has to push people to dream bigger, bolder dreams; and then it has to see to it that those dreams become a reality.
That’s what we aim to do—Reimagine. Dismantle. Rebuild. Repeat.
- My good friend and fellow editor at HereIn Journal Elizabeth Rooklidge wrote a terrific essay called “On the Notes App” about reaching for her phone in the middle of the night and pouring “what I’m thinking and feeling onto the small white screen.” Read it!
- Didion, Joan. “Why I Write.” Let Me Tell You What I Mean. HarperCollins Publishers, 2021.
- Didion, Joan. “On Keeping a Notebook.” Slouching Towards Bethlehem. New York City: Dell, 1968.
- Kelley, Robin D.G. Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination. Beacon Press, 2002.