New Queer Literature: A Conversation with Peculiar, a Queer Literary Journal

Spotlight on New Queer Literature is a monthly series highlighting publications that are LGBTQIA owned, promote queer and trans writers, or publish work on LGBTQIA themes, seeking to connect Lambda’s readership with contemporary queer publishers and authors.

This month, Lambda Literary spoke with Aaron Gates, co-editor and chief of peculiar, a queer literary journal .

Tell us a little bit about peculiar and its mission.

Here at peculiar, we really want to shine a spotlight on queer creators and their work. We believe there’s so much rich and unique talent in the LGBTQIA+/queer community, and we would love for our journal to be a way for that work to get into the hands of as many people as possible.

As queer creators ourselves, we know that sometimes just the thought, let alone the effort, of submitting your work can seem overwhelming. We hope that by giving a space to queer writers and artists, we can help people find a home for their work and help everyone see queer creators thriving.

We would love our journal to carry a voice to anyone who feels beaten down, lost, or overwhelmed, saying, “We see you. We hear you. We’ll walk with you.”

How long has peculiar been around? How has it developed or changed since it began?

When we started peculiar in 2015, we were centered in the heart of Mormon country in Utah County, Utah, where the phrase “a peculiar people” is a familiar one in the Mormon community. Taken from scripture, the phrase denotes the Mormon relationship with estrangement from the “norm.” Calling our journal peculiar was a poignant appropriation for us as a community of queer Mormon and Mormon-adjacent folk who likewise have a need to speak from our own experiences of estrangement.

Our hope was to capture and showcase the unique queer community that exists in Utah. Next, we hoped the journal could be a conversation starter: something to lift up queer individuals and help change the minds of those who couldn’t see the worth and joy in queer communities.

Our first 5 issues feature only Utah-based contributors, and we love what we were able to showcase and celebrate in those issues. We still run an annual contest for Utah-based queer creators as a nod to our “peculiar” origins. But as our journal has grown over the past few years—and our staff has begun setting roots nationwide—we’ve broadened the scope of peculiar to include queer voices from anywhere and everywhere. No matter how far you are or how quietly you whisper, know that we hear you.

What kind of work do you publish?

We publish the fiction, poetry, creative nonficiton, art, and photography of queer writers and artists. At peculiar we seek quality works regardless of theme or genre. The subject doesn’t have to be queer; we only ask that contributors identify as LGBTQIA+.

We aim to publish two issues of the journal each year, and we work to sponsor readings and events when we can.

How would you describe peculiar’s aesthetic?

There’s definitely an urban feel to the style and design of peculiar—something that captures community and nature blending together. From birds on a power line in our logo to coffee-cup stains and ink smudges on our pages, we love transforming each issue into something unique that captures that human feel. We hope the time we spend adding hand-drawn sketches and detail to the pages means it can be something that contributors will be proud to show off.

Where can new readers start?

For poetry, we still find ourselves circling back over and over again to a piece we published in our first issue. “For Brown Rural Queers Who Celebrated Pioneer Day” is a fantastic poem by Jennifer Duqué that paints this unforgettable picture of Utah, the queer community, and some of what it means to navigate both as a person of color. The images and repetitions will keep you captive straight through to the end of it.

For art, check out “Life Organic,” a digital art piece by Ty Carton, one of our featured artists. We love to embrace our namesake of peculiarity, and Carton’s piece does just that: it’s a little weird, a lot human, and superbly done. You should also check out ”Ace’s Grace,” an oil-on-wood painting by Sean Ziegler from our sixth issue. We love the uniqueness of the individual, and Ziegler’s piece shows us that without fail.

Lastly, for prose, check out “Judas at the End of the World” by Jai Hamid Bashir. We love this story because even in its short simplicity, it captures both a complex situation and a complex world without feeling like it’s leaving something out. Its tenseness bleeds with a feeling of comfort, a contrast you can’t stop yourself from coming back to.

What would you like writers interested in submitting to peculiar to know?

First off, know we’re taking a short break as we take issues 8 & 9 to print this year, and we’ll be opening up again for submissions on January 1, 2021.

That’s great news for everyone though because it means they have time to write and create and prep their work for us! Send us your best, send us your weird, your peculiar creations. Send us the things you don’t know what genre they belong in and the creations that will make us stop in our tracks.

Plus, we get a ton of submissions, so if you don’t make it into an issue, create more and try again!