Saeed Jones is the future of literary publishing — or at least one hopes. Having helmed BuzzFeed’s groundbreaking LGBT vertical for the last several years, he is now the media organization’s first-ever literary editor. Beginning this fall, he’ll be overseeing an emerging writers fellowship program, and eventually publishing a literary quarterly. Jones is a poet. His debut collection, Prelude to Bruise, was published by Coffee House Press in 2014 to a volume of critical acclaim that is rare for a poetry collection. It also won numerous awards, including the 2015 Stonewall Book Award/Barbara Gittings Literature Award, and it was as a finalist for the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award. In his poetry, in his essays, and on Twitter, he is a vital witness and voice of reason, especially when it comes to race, gender, sexuality, and intersectionality. Whatever hullabloo warrants some proverbial sage burning or tea sipping on a given day, Saeed is usually on it. And people are noticing: he was just this week named 79 on The Root's 100 for 2015. His second book, a memoir, is forthcoming from Simon & Schuster. On the eve of his departure to France to begin writing it, Jones chatted with Sandra Allen about literary publishing and the internet, what’s changed in the years they’ve each been paying attention to that collision, and what’s to come.
Sandra Allen, Wag’s Revue: You are soon going to be launching BuzzFeed’s literary magazine. Can you tell me how that idea came about?
Saeed Jones: Absolutely. I started thinking about readers and the fact that there’s no shortage of excellent work being published in literary journals and being disseminated in literary venues, but there are all these barriers between that amazing work — especially by emerging writers — and readers. And some of the barriers are financial, in terms of not having the funding to get that work out there, or being able to develop technology so that their work can thrive online. Some of it’s about antipathy and relationships to the social web. I was thinking about how could we enter this disconnect between the great work and the readers. If BuzzFeed is able to do anything it’s learning how to share. It feels really natural.