On Sunday night, writers and writing enthusiasts convened in 501 Dodge Hall to launch the first issue of the creative writing magazine 4x4. The evening included readings from the issue, a small speckled booklet that marks the culmination of a months-long effort to create a new publication after editors Sarina Bhandari and Aliza Polkes, both CC '14, split from literary magazine Quarto in September.
Since the two announced the split in response to what they said was the creative writing department's plan to exert more control over the magazine, they've grown 4x4 from an idea to a tangible product, with smaller successes along the way. In October, they secured Joyce Carol Oates as the judge for the magazine's first contest, and in November, 4x4's Kickstarter—meant to fund the issue's printing—exceeded its $5,000 goal in four days, eventually bringing in $10,500.
For Polkes and Bhandari, the time since their split from Quarto has felt like a crash course in the do-it-yourself ethos they find integral to 4x4. The first lesson they learned was not being afraid to aim high, since Bhandari invited Oates to judge the contest after meeting the author at a Princeton literary contest.
“It was actually quite easy,” Bhandari said of securing Oates to judge the competition, which drew over 500 submissions. “I think there's this perception that, like, great people are really hard to approach.”
According to Bhandari, their initial fear about the difficulty of being independent of a department ended up being somewhat unfounded. The group was able to secure funding from the Arts Initiative in the form of a Gatsby grant, which helped them get off the ground.
“I was afraid of the bureaucracy,” Polkes said. “I was afraid that we wouldn't be able to do what we loved because of some unclear, ridiculous thing that we didn't really understand. In just sort of doing it, I think we learned that it wasn't even an issue.”
“There are so many more things that we can do now as 4x4 that we couldn't do as Quarto,” Bhandari said. “We can move faster. When we have an idea, we can just walk right into it—we don't have to wait for levels of approval.”
[Related: We need to thank the Columbia bureacracy]
Though publishing the magazine might be the goal that the magazine's staff has been working toward, 4x4's editors emphasize the spoken component of their project. 4x4 and Sigma Nu hosted an event on Feb. 13 that featured students reading their work.
“It's super important to have this open mic component, and event components, because we don't just want the experience of our magazine to be something that happens with a bunch of editors in a room,” Polkes said. “We love having people come and read their work. If you're not sure how to get involved, if you just want an outlet, you can come and read your work.”
On Sunday, the open mic component was on display with readings from AJ Stoughton, CC '16, and Mahima Chablani, CC '14, both of whose pieces—“Made Men” and “Up Glenwood Way”—received honorable mentions from Oates. The contest's winner, Rachel Cruz, GS '14, was absent from the event but had her piece read by a 4x4 staffer.
As 4x4's founding editors prepare to graduate, they leave the magazine to Eric Wohlstadter, CC '15, and Serena Solin, CC '16.
“We are so thrilled and confident to be leaving the magazine in their hands,” Polkes said.