‘We’re still going’: subTerrain Magazine celebrates 30 years

SubTerrain Magazine celebrates its 30th anniversary Tuesday night. For the past three decades, the Vancouver literary publication has weathered the challenges facing independent media.

The magazine started at the kitchen table of publisher and editor-in-chief Brian Kaufman and is now run from small offices on Main Street.

“It’s had many ups and downs,” Kaufman told Early Edition host Stephen Quinn. “We’ve gone through the bankruptcy of distributors, the ongoing pursuit of new readers and new subscribers … and we’re still going.”

The early days

In the beginning, subTerrain used a cheap printer and did its own binding and trimming. It had to crop photos by hand, because there were no computer layout programs, says Kaufman. 

The publication was originally inspired in 1988 by zines and literary magazines.

“I wanted to produce a small, edgy, scrappy magazine that came more from the street than from the university and college departments.”

The publication features everything from fiction, to poetry to art. Kaufman says many authors featured in subTerrain have gone on to write books, like Ken Babstock, Grant Buday and Annette Lapointe. 

SubTerrain Magazine started at the kitchen table of publisher and editor-in-chief Brian Kaufman (pictured above with the latest issue), and is now run from small offices on Main Street in Vancouver. (Jessica Key)

Grant support

SubTerrain has received major support in cultural funding from B.C. Arts and City of Vancouver. Grants make up about 65 per cent of the magazine’s operating budget, says Kaufman.

Since it is only published three times a year, SubTerrain does not have the circulation to get on the major newsstands. Selling advertisements is difficult as well, says Kaufman.

“God bless a country that has federal, provincial and civic arts funding … The granting bodies and programs are really what makes it possible for us to produce this kind of art.”

Over the years, subTerrain has been in a constant battle to drive down costs. But it won’t cut pay for writers, says Kaufman.

The writers

Kaufman says subTerrain prefers to publish stories that would not be seen in a magazine that’s under the eye of an advertiser or department head.

“We’re always looking for unconventional. We’re not looking for your straightforward, linear narrative kind of story.”

Being a small niche magazine meant that subTerrain was not hit as hard as some other publications when the internet started to put a strain on print publications, says Kaufman. Many writers, who lost opportunities at larger publications suffering from print revenue declines, sought to be published in subTerrain. 

“The more you’re doing good work, and the longer you’ve been around, you do attract writers from far-flung places and locally. New voices emerge.”

SubTerrain Magazine is celebrating its 30th anniversary Tuesday night at Strange Fellows Brewing on Clark Drive at 7 p.m.

Listen to the full interview here:

SubTerrain Magazine celebrates its 30th anniversary tonight. For the past three decades, the Vancouver literary magazine has weathered the challenges facing independent media, says publisher and editor-in-chief Brian Kaufman. 7:49

With files from The Early Edition

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