Interview with Mike Ingram, Fiction Editor of Barrelhouse, October 2012
MIKE INGRAM is the fiction editor of Barrelhouse Magazine. His fiction has appeared, most recently, in EPOCH, The Southeast Review, Eyeshot, and Monkeybicycle. A graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop, he now teaches at Temple University. He’ll read for Poetdelphia on December 14, 2012.
Poetdelphia: Hi, Mike. Can you tell us about your role at Barrelhouse and the mission of the journal, including the aesthetic sensibilities of you and your staff when it comes to selecting fiction, nonfiction and poetry?
Mike Ingram: I’ve been involved in Barrelhouse since the beginning. It actually sprang from a writing class I took while living in D.C.: after the class had ended, a few of us continued to get together once a month, ostensibly to share work but mostly just to drink beers and talk about writing. We all had friends who were readers, but who would never think about buying a lit journal, and we started talking about why that was. Literary publishing can be a little insular, and academic, and we wanted to do something that might appeal to that audience of smart readers who, for one reason or another, would think lit journals weren’t for them. I think that desire has guided us throughout: wanting to publish work that’s smart but unpretentious, that has a sense of humor but also has real things to say about the world. On the nonfiction side, we only publish essays that have some relationship to pop culture, though we want things that go deeper than your average magazine article. With fiction and poetry, we cast a wider net, though we did publish a series of poems about Ed Asner, a poem involving Back to the Future (by Philadelphian Chris McCreary), and stories about Super Mario Brothers and Patrick Swayze. Though in all those cases, the work is about a lot more than that pop cultural subject; the pop culture is just a jumping-off point.
I’ve done a little of everything with the journal, though at the moment my main role is as fiction editor. I also recently launched a weekly podcast, Book Fight, with Tom McAllister, our nonfiction editor and one of my colleagues at Temple. I think that endeavor is actually an attempt to recreate those old bar conversations out of which Barrelhouse started. We argue about books, gossip, make fun of each other, and try to have at least a few smart things to say each week.
Poetdelphia: What is your association with Philadelphia, and how would you describe the writing community you have found here?
Mike Ingram: I moved here in 2006, after finishing grad school in Iowa. To be honest, it took a while for Philly to grow on me. Now I love it, though. I teach at Temple, and I love how it feels like a real city school, with a hugely diverse student body and a great, vibrant energy. I love that I’ve made a bunch of writer-friends, several of whom live in my South Philly neighborhood and are easy to talk into happy hour. I love that my Italian neighbors sometimes leave dinner on the welcome mat outside my apartment.
Philly has a pretty dynamic writing community, at least in my experience. Actual, working writers, not just people who hang around the bar telling everyone they’re working on a novel. My friends Sarah and Christian last year started the Tire Fire reading series, and it’s really cool to see the big turnouts they get. Barrelhouse just ran a writing conference here for the first time, Conversations and Connections, and that was the same deal: I had no idea how many people would register, but we had a great turnout, and the attendees seemed really smart and engaged.
Poetdelphia: What makes a stellar story stand out from the average, and how would you describe the kind of stories that you find exciting to write?
Mike Ingram: I think my favorite stories are funny without being jokey, where the humor has a point of view and something to say about the world. I like characters who are a little desperate, who have been kicked around a bit by the world. More than anything, as an editor I just look for stories that are honest, that have something interesting to report about what it’s like to be a human being.
I guess I’m trying to do the same thing with my own writing, to just be honest, even if that’s within the context of a completely fictional situation.
Poetdelphia: What is the last great book you read that knocked your socks off?
Mike Ingram: The last several books I’ve read have been either for my classes at Temple or the Book Fight podcast. Of the latter, I think my favorite was a book recommended to us by Stewart O’Nan: The True Detective, by Theodore Weesner. He’s a writer I knew nothing about, and the book’s fallen out of print, but it was a really engaging read, and much more than a typical detective novel. For my classes, I just re-read Slaughterhouse Five, which continues to be amazing. And Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim, which still cracks me up.
Mike Ingram will read for Poetdelphia on December 14, 2012. Details here.