Anne Hensley and Melanie Crow sit across the table from each other, two editors for a new Kalamazoo magazine, Hear Here.
They are fishing for a common memory, but not finding it. "Funny thing," says Hensley, "but neither one of us remembers ever meeting. We just … converged."
Crow shrugs. "We both have husbands involved in music and teaching, must have been through them."
No matter. They met. Sometime, somewhere. The mesh of friendship was a natural and soon inclined toward the literary.
Both were originally drawn to Kalamazoo by academic pursuits. Crow earned her PhD in English from Western Michigan University and now teaches writing and literature at Kalamazoo Valley Community College and WMU.
"And I came to school here and hated it." Hensley bursts out laughing. "But I loved Kalamazoo."
Another fateful meeting took place, bringing a third party into the mix. (Hang on, we are getting to the new magazine here as the three converge.) Hensley, not loving the academic life, worked instead in food service, managing the servers in several restaurants. A regular at one of those restaurants was Peter Brakeman, owner of a design firm called Brakeman.
"Peter and I became fast friends," Hensley says, "and when he invited me to come work for him at Brakeman, I went. I started as a customer liaison, and I had never even used a computer before. I was fearful of them!" Hensley grins. "But I got over that fear like gangbusters."
Eleven years later, Hensley still works for Brakeman, much of her work on computers. But it took a bout of hard anger and a stranger and a funeral for the convergence of these three to turn into an innovative new magazine.
"Yes, I was at a funeral, at the wake after the funeral, and a stranger started talking to me about health care," Hensley recalls. "He said something like, 'tell me what you think about our president.' Only he didn't want to listen to my answer. We weren't listening to each other. We were just lobbing insults across the fence. I drove home that day very angry and frustrated. On that two-hour drive, I kept thinking that there must be a better way to communicate. When we are both yelling at each other, nothing is accomplished."
Out of that moment of frustration, Hensley started to think about the dynamics of communication, and she thought about another magazine, called The Sun
, that she had long admired. She thought about creating a similar magazine in Kalamazoo that could serve as a vehicle of discourse, building a bridge between people of different opinions and different life experiences.
"Our social discourse today has become very angry. I wanted to create a publication that could offer a more productive and peaceful discourse," Hensley says. "We probably won’t change any minds with Hear Here, but we might find common ground to help us bridge our differences. Stories help us understand people. Reading about experiences can open minds and change lives."
Crow nods, and she adds her teacher’s perspective. "I have my students do this in class. When you are doing research for a paper, you look at different perspectives and weigh evidence. When you do that, you tend to land on the compassionate side."
"We are wired for compassion," Hensley says.
The two friends got together to flesh out this idea for a magazine that could build bridges of compassion. Even the title had come to Hensley on that frustrated drive home in a stream of consciousness: Hear Here. The friends defined it as "a print forum for community discussion, based on a theme."
And it wouldn’t be online; it would be in print, including photography and artwork. Enter Peter Brakeman, the designer.
"We talked to Peter about the magazine idea for about two years," Hensley says. "When we made the decision to go ahead, it took about two weeks."
The first issue came off the presses on June 16, printing 200 copies with a color cover and 32 black and white interior pages. The issue, priced $5, has a theme, suggested by Crow: "Kalamazoo talks about what it means to Serve."
Local bookstores Michigan News Agency and Book Bug, along with People’s Food Co-op, stock the magazine, and the launch party took place at Book Bug with readings by contributing writers. Another 40 copies or so went out in the mail, to wherever those with ties to Kalamazoo live, missing home.
"We publish submissions from writers invested in Kalamazoo, with a rooted presence here," Crow and Hensley say, and both agree that the submissions for the first issue were exceptionally strong.
They publish fiction, nonfiction and poetry, with no guidelines other than word count (5,000 maximum) and some connection to the theme. An interview with Vine Neighborhood Association’s Steve Walsh was conducted by Melanie Crow, and a section called "Be Heard" includes personal reflections on the issue’s theme by community members.
The two consider carefully whether Hear Here might ever go online rather than print. Currently, it does not have a website, but readers and writers can find its fan page
on Facebook, where the editors will be listing themes for future issues, to be published on a quarterly basis.
"Paper may kill trees, but computers have a great environmental impact, too," Hensley says.
"We both love the tactile pleasure of holding a book or a real magazine in our hands," Crow says. "We wanted people to be able to hold it."
Brakeman, visual designer for the project, adds, "I, too, like something I can sit on the grass and read." He considers for a moment. "Although I would be willing to sit on a bench or a rock to read it, too."
Questions, submissions, feedback for Hear Here may be sent to the magazine here
Zinta Aistars is creative director for Z Word, LLC, and editor of the literary magazine, The Smoking Poet. She lives on a farm in Hopkins.
Photos by Erik Holladay.