Q+A with Julia Ongking from The Woolgathering Review

You know when someone recommends a book, so you go to the store, pick it up and think: Nine hundred fucking pages?! But then you sit down to read and before you know it, you’re done, thinking: Damn, that was fantastic--but I could do without the forward by some rando. That’s how we felt when we received the answers for our interview with Julia Ongking from The Woolgathering Review. And so we’re keeping this intro short. Enjoy.

What made you want to become the editor of a lit mag (other than the fame, glory, and extravagant wealth, of course)?

Is there any better way to immerse myself in the mysterious world of writing?

Easy response: no.

Having the opportunity to edit for such an amazing magazine has been a complete eye-opener for me. As a writer who still struggles to understand the complexities and elusiveness of publication, editing has given me a taste of all the work that goes on behind the scenes in the magazines that I myself submit to. I’ve definitely gotten a greater appreciation for the mags that get hundreds and even thousands of submissions on the daily -- hats off to you guys!

Something else that’s been very fulfilling to me has been the opportunity to read such a diverse collection of submissions -- it’s amazing to see how broad our audience is, and the different topics each writer explores in their work. It’s really inspired me to keep exploring and experimenting with my own writing as well!

The lit mag scene is massive—what did you want to bring to the community that is different from what others are offering?

We started Woolgathering at a time where many magazines were also on the rise -- the literary community was very promising and inspiring to us as a group of young, passionate (and slightly clueless!) students. As a team that is mainly based in the Philippines, we recognized both the lack of homegrown representation in the writing community, and at the same time, a growing sense of political dissent and censorship. As young writers beginning to delve into the world of publishing, we felt like there wasn’t a safe space to share our thoughts without restraint, and hence came our magazine! Ultimately, Woolgathering was born out of our desire to help others express their own unique and fresh voices without any restraint.

Your website is hella-stylish, and the way issues are presented is unique. Did you set out with this vision in mind, or is that something that came together as you were creating it?

The vision for our website was to convey what Woolgathering means in itself: to indulge in wandering thoughts and to find oneself in the midst of a daydream. We really love how this iteration of the website came out, with such a representative landing page, and how each issue is presented as a journey — really portrays the type of thinking we champion as a publication!

However, we’ve also gone through maaaaany failed versions of our current website. Through countless experiments with Wordpress, Wix and other platforms, we’ve come to learn exactly what we’ve been looking for in our website today! #failureisthebestteacher!

Your ‘about us’ tells writers to move you. What are a few stories out there that have moved you in the past—outside of what has been published in Woolgathering?

Gosh! There are SO many pieces that have moved me and literally left me slack-jawed and malfunctioning -- this is something I’m actually really grateful to the literary community for! I’ve really been able to embrace my identity and my cultural values because of pieces that make me feel seen and recognized in this very confusing and often Eurocentric world. As a person-of-color coming from cultures that are typically very underrepresented in the literary community, I’m a bit biased towards works that explore my Filipino upbringing and Chinese (and Asian) heritage as a whole. By no means am I generalizing the wildly diverse group of cultures that make up the Asian continent, but writers of color are simply so underrepresented in many publications that reading fresh pieces on our shared experiences and struggles is so heartwarming :)

However, I am also super moved by poems which wield language in such beautiful and unreal ways. I’m continuously amazed by the way words can be used in the most unexpected and creative ways!

So far, Woolgathering has had three issues. For others out there who might be looking to start a fledgling lit mag, what road bumps have you come across so far (if any)?

Something that’s been pretty difficult to us has honestly been keeping up with all our necessary deadlines and managing our submissions. Currently, we only accept submissions through email, and it’s difficult to keep organized to ensure that all submissions are addressed in a timely manner. I emphasize timeliness, as we want to honor the pieces that our submitters trust us with, and hence treat them with utmost respect and due diligence.

For those of you looking to create your own lit mag -- first and foremost, GO FOR IT! You will get nowhere if you don’t start! Make sure to keep track of deadlines and keep yourselves accountable. It is a huge honor that authors are trusting you with their work, so do your best to address each submission as if it was your own :) Also, don’t forget to enjoy! The work can pile up, and it can be difficult to overcome inertia. Remember that at the end of the day, you are here because you love reading and being a part of this literary community -- do your part!

How did your editors and readers come together to create Woolgathering Review? I count roughly 20 staff in your masthead from all over the world. That is a lot of voices to get on the same page.

It’s hard to find people passionate about literature, especially in regions where it is very underrepresented and honestly, pretty obscure. We first came together just because we came from the same school, forming a small but passionate team of editors! Eventually, as some of us moved away and settled around the world, our network grew by virtue of meeting new people who were equally intrigued by literature and creative writing!

The Woolgathering team is really lucky to have a huge set of diverse voices contributing to the publication — we wouldn’t be able to have such a worldly set of voices each contributing their unique opinions and perspectives without each of our amazing staff members! <3

If you could sum up your magazine's vibe in six words or less, what would they be?

Imaginative / explorative / unconventional / truth-seeking / piercing / dreamy

Any parting words of advice for people submitting work, either to your magazine or other journals?

READ! Read as wide a variety of works as you can in order to add to what I like to call your “writer’s toolkit”! Eventually, you’ll have amassed so many techniques and styles from your favorite pieces that you’ll find it easier and also more fun to accurately tell the stories you want to share through your own writing. Also, many editors have unique styles and tastes, so it’s good advice to read a few of your dream pub’s past issues to have a better idea of what kind of writing they are looking for!

At the end of the day, I believe that there is no one way to write or find success in this community. Hence, I would just encourage everyone reading this to just focus on themselves and their own writing. Continue to explore your unique voice and style of writing, and nurture it as it slowly changes and evolves over time; I believe this self-exploration and gentle discovery is what makes writing so special! It’s important to remember that at the end of the day, we are writers because we have stories we want to tell, moments we want to share. Writing is such a beautiful and intimate activity, and it’s important to establish a strong personal relationship with it, instead of just focusing on publications :)

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The Woolgathering Review

"Move us. Shock us. Make us feel things! We are seeking submissions that are rich in language and honest in intention, striving to find answers to questions that cannot yet be put into words in order to celebrate the stories of the underserved, and the unheard."
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