Ascend Magazine is a literary publication aimed towards providing a different–and necessary–perspective from people of color, as well as initiating self-acceptance for the marginalized through art. True to its name (Ascend’s founder, Malak Shahin, is Palestinian-American) the mission of the magazine is to allow women and nonbinary people of color to rise up in society through contributing their voices to the platform.
The magazine officially launched on in the middle of 2017 and has already reached over 800 followers on Twitter, a monumental stepping stone to what Shahin hopes will allow Ascend to assume a more established presence within the canon of protest literature. I interviewed Shahin in order to find out more about Ascend’s main goals, structure, and hopes for development.
While Ascend’s sudden swell in popularity is surprising, Shahin attributes it to the goal of the magazine, which has resonated with many:
“As women and non-binary people of color, few spaces exist that prioritize us and our art and give us the resources that we need to succeed. Most institutions do not exist for us and by us. In establishing a space for women and non-binary artists of color, we give ourselves agency to tell our own stories, share our art, and to gain experiences that we’re often not given by mainstream publishing and artist spaces.”
“Like all art, writing is a form of resistance,” Shahin stated, “We [Ascend] are part of a long history of marginalized artists being part of activism and resistance, and we will continue to be. The issues we put out and the work we publish is meaningful to the artists who created them, making everything we do that much more necessary.”
Currently, Ascend runs on a format that provides a unique platform for each individual artist. Divided into three different aspects, the magazine produces online issues, a blog, and a special feature series titled Ascending Artists. What characterizes the issues is the commitment to diversity: once an artist is published once, they cannot be published again for three more issues. Through this system, each voice is given an opportunity.
The blog is aimed towards producing information on activism that is not typically found in mainstream media, but rather community organizations showcasing marginalized stories. Sources such as Native News Network, AsAm News, and Colorlines will be referenced in order to show that all stories are multi-dimensional. Ascending Artists acts primarily as a workshop program, in which editors commit to developing the talents of individual artists, with the mentees’ work being featured later on the website.
Yet, producing a publication that caters to the marginalized has proven to be a task that requires careful thought and deliberation. While Shahin herself is a full-time student at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, she is determined to ensure that her status does not directly conflict with Ascend’s overall mission as an accessible place for people of color. “Right now, Ascend is a free service and I don’t foresee changing that. I think it’s disingenuous to claim to be for and by marginalized artists and charge money,” Shahin said, “Since this is the way Ascend runs, we do not make a profit. Right now, we can’t pay our editors, so this will be a challenge we need to overcome in the future.”
Ascend Magazine, which openly declares itself as a space exclusively for “womxn and non-binary people of color,” is one that is no stranger to the minority bias within the publishing industry. Despite this, a major criticism that could arise is the fact that Ascend is not a publication for everyone, as its mission statement is aimed towards elevating only women and non-binary people of color, which could serve to isolate many who are more inclined towards a unified movement.
Many non-marginalized people tend to characterize these “protest” magazines are inherently exclusive, dedicated only to empower a select few. However, Shahin believes this opposition only reiterates the need for creating a place specifically for the marginalized–those voices who are traditionally silenced in society. The necessity of creating magazines like Ascend is specifically so that women and nonbinary people of color recognize the inclusivity of these publications, and the collective of creators (deemed “Ascending Artists”) that they reflect upon.
Forming a publication with the goal of liberation from social oppression is not an easy process, but when asked how she plans to go about further expanding the magazine, Shahin stated, “I see the most essential aspect to a publication is providing resources. What this means is making revolutionary ideas and terms more accessible, giving spaces to express themselves in ways that aren’t familiar with Western art forms, and offering tools for the development of their craft and growth as people.”
As for the future? Shahin believes that the most essential aspect to focus on is the growth of Ascend, which comes from outreach. “We want as many people as possible to know about Ascend and submit,” she added.
Find Ascend Magazine here.