Interview with writer Fabiola Ching

“Everything I read was by a white man or woman. I didn’t think anything of the oddness of it, the fact that I was swallowing up these worlds I had nothing to do with. These people were worlds apart from me yet they were all I knew. This was a problem, even if I didn’t realize it then. It was a huge problem.” -Fabiola Ching

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You are the founder and editor of The Coalition Zine a cultural and literary magazine dedicated to work made by women of color. How this project got started?

The Coalition started out as a little Tumblr blog where we highlighted women of colour, mostly black women, who were making art and starting businesses and making music independently. Just highlighting people I thought the world needed to know, who were working and making art independently. And then it morphed into this little publication, and everyone really loved it, and then it just snowballed into a literary magazine. I think people loved it instantly because it was needed and because of how much sincerity and honesty came with it. I didn’t notice it then but when I look back at our first few things, it was so raw and so us and so honest, and I hope I’ve been able to keep that up. Now, if you ask me what to describe The Coalition, I’ll say it’s a print and web publication where stories are told through writing and visual work.

You started The Coalition Zine when you were 16. That’s really impressive. What was your life like at that time?

Being 16 was bleak for me. I had no friends, was lonely, was angry, and was extremely depressed, felt very alien -still do, actually. I had just graduated high school and I remember after my graduation my Ma was like, “Don’t you want to hang around and take pictures with your friends?” and I was like, Lmao no we need to leave right now, I don’t know anyone here. Even though I went to that school for four years, I was having the hardest time facing adulthood because the second I graduated, I had to get a job and help with bills and I just felt so…unprepared. That’s how I would describe being 16: Feeling perpetually overwhelmed and unprepared. It’s like I was always four steps behind my peers, and I still feel that way sometimes. But I’ve decided that it’s normal to feel that way. The only things that have changed since then is that I am so much more comfortable in my aloneness and more comfortable with who I am. I relish everything that is ugly about me, I don’t try too hard to be anything other than what I am on that particular day. I have given myself permission to be okay, to relax, to be ugly, to work and live on my own terms. That makes a whole world of difference.

Was there a specific time you decided to be a writer? Or was this something you always did that evolved into your practice today?

When I was growing up, before I moved abroad to America, I never really read books. Mainly because back home in Cameroon we don’t really have a vast array of books, so I never got the chance. But when I moved to America, I was all alone, had no one to talk to but my Ma so I dove headfirst into books. My English teacher used to give me loads of books to take home - I think she thought I couldn’t speak English because I was from a different country, but I didn’t correct her, I just took the books home and devoured them. I loved reading so much, and I loved the worlds that I saw in these books. So I started to create mine, started to pen out worlds that I wanted to live in. And then later in high school, I got heavily into songwriting and poetry and essay writing. I got into essay writing because of Sontag and because of the writers I met online like Arabelle Sicardi and Durga Chew-Bose. So yeah, that’s pretty much my writing evolution.

Is the magazine a collaborative process? How do people come to submit to the zine, and what is it like to work with these women in sharing their words and images?

Yeah, in terms of the content it’s very collaborative. We have writers and artists from all over the world, and I feel really honoured to be able to help them tell their story. We have open submissions all year round, so you are always welcome to pitch. I also hit up writers and artists that we love and ask them if they would like to pitch to us or collaborate. I’ve met so many amazing people through this tiny publication, it’s wild.

In a lot of your writing and interviews you talk about creating space for non-binary women of color. What was your experience like leading up to this decision to not only create space, but actively take space?

Honestly, I don’t know. All I know is I got tired of trying to work within this confined spectrum, where if you are a black creator you have to work a certain way. A lot of that has to do with making work for white people, trying to prove to the white gaze that you are beautiful and deserving. And when we started, that was what all black creators were doing and I was like “….is that it? And then what?” I got tired of it, I realized that I don’t care about beauty, and I don’t care about proving anything to white people. They are not my target audience. I decided that if I’m going to do creative work, I’m going to do it for me and for us. And I don’t want anything from them, I don’t even want their space anymore. I’ll create mine. I’ll create something that people like me can come into. And I hope that’s what I am doing with The Coalition. It’s hard, especially now, to see the acts of violence that have taken place towards people of color and feel like there has been change in the United States.

Systemic racism runs deep. How do you fight these injustices? Do you feel your writing and The Coalition Zine are a platform for activism?

I throw myself wholeheartedly into creative labour. I work to create things that are beautiful and safe and that might help with healing. Things that say, “We’re out here, we’re working, we’re acting a fool, we’re loving, we’re alive!” I don’t want to say that my own writing is a platform for activism because it’s not. I’ve decided to not make it a platform for activism because that’s too heavy for me. But I definitely think one can say that The Coalition Zine is. We don’t strive to be, but I don’t mind us being seen as that. I feel that no one talks about healing, no one talks about the strain that black people go through mentally. Especially non-black people of colour and white people, like they don’t get that we need a break. Waking up everyday to hashtags and dead bodies and grief, like waking up every day and seeing that the whole world is actively trying to wipe you out -that shit is heavy, and people don’t get that, they don’t understand at all.

It impacts you and your everyday life. What can we do to heal ourselves, to make the world feel lighter, to feel like we can be able to love and live despite everything? That’s what I want to throw myself into, trying to create things that give us hope, even if it’s fleeting hope. In light of all the media, news articles, and mostly social media comments, I’ve realized how many people are ignorant to the fact that systemic racism exists, that violence exists, that injustice exists, and that people of color have been suffering from this inequality more.

What is the readership like for The Coalition Zine? Are your readers supportive of this space?

Yes, definitely. Like I said before I don’t really care what white people do so I don’t know how white people feel about it. But we wouldn’t be able to produce work if we didn’t have the immense support that we get from our peers, from people who go through what we go through.

The magazine also focuses on feminism. When did you begin to identify as a feminist?

I no longer identify as a feminist, I identify as a womanist. Womanism is just more in tune with what I am doing now and how I am living my life. When I started this zine, I think I identified as a feminist even though it was still such a foreign concept to me, I just felt very alien in the feminist movement. But I identified with it because I understood it, and it was how I was feeling and how I was living my life. Now, not so much. Yes, feminism is about equality for women, but it’s important to note how one’s race, class, status, religion, sexual orientation, age, etc. etc. etc. can also define one’s individual feminism. I'm all about solidarity amongst women of colour in a radical manner, and I don't think feminism today accommodates that. I feel like at this point, women like me have spoken so much about womanism that we really shouldn't be asking, "What is it?". It should be known now.

I love how the zine addresses this. The whole basis of The Coalition was to show that there is more than one type of feminism, more than the shit that you see white women regurgitating. That was the premise when we started and we still focus on that to some degree. I’ve just lost interest. I think we’ve said more than enough about how exclusionary the feminist movement is and how mainstream feminism is shallow and needs to be dismantled. Like, we’ve said it all, and now we’re done, and we just want to make and put out work on our terms. We’re tired of educating! Or at least, I am.

What are your future plans for The Coalition Zine? For you personally?

I’m just getting to this point where I feel secure in making work on our own terms so I am just ready to dive in head first. I am working on a docu-series called “Workspace” and it’s about women and non-binary creators of colour and their work environments and how it influences their work process and their creations. We just started filming it, and I’m excited. I’m working on it with a very cool girl named Tam-anh Nguyen - she’s an amazing filmographer and person, working with her is a joy, and I can’t wait for the rest of the universe to see what she can do and what an amazing eye for beauty she has. I’m also starting a collective for lesbian/bi/pansexual artists of colour so I guess you can watch out for that. Mostly, I’m just trying to take our work from the URL and bring it to IRL, to the communities and to our backyards.

What are some of your favorite books right now that you would recommend to our readers?

I just finished reading Hilton Als’ “White Girls” and it FUCKED ME UP so get into that! And Sandra Cisneros’ most recent collection of essays “A House of my Own” is an amazing book that is very dear to me - I keep it in my bag at all times because it feels like a bible, almost.