Independent literary magazine “Four Chambers” has seen success in its early stages in the Phoenix area despite facing the challenge of battling advancing technology in a world of pop culture that favors other forms of media.
Four Chambers Press published its first print issue just six months ago, in December of 2013. The organization aspires to be an ongoing avenue for authors to get their work out to people who might not realize what literary talent Phoenix holds.
“I love the goal of expanding Phoenix’s literary scene,” said Jared Duran, whose poem was published in the first issue and who is now on the publication’s staff. “The thing is that there is one, and this shocks most people, and this is why I’m passionate about Four Chambers — our commitment to growing and uniting a very diverse, multifaceted literary scene.”
Jake Friedman, the founder of the magazine, said he came from a suburban lifestyle and had his own idea of what the city would be like — a modern organization of society.
“It’s new and it’s different,” he said. “It stands for a lot of things. People come to or live in a city to become part of a culture and have a certain degree of freedom. It carries a lot of symbolic weight for a lot of people.”
Friedman first came to downtown Phoenix in 2011, when the city was beginning to go through a revitalization process that resulted in the current arts community. The Trunk Space, now one of the most well-known venues in the area, was gaining momentum. Art galleries had their presence on Roosevelt Row and in several other nooks and crannies throughout the city — Phoenix was beginning to evolve into what it is today.
However, after going to the few open mic events and writing groups in the city, Friedman realized that many local authors didn’t have a clear outlet for their work. He noticed the literary scene was severely underdeveloped, especially considering the other forms of culture that were beginning to thrive throughout the city.
“I was really developing relationships with (writers) and their work,” Friedman said. “I wanted to take it home and make it a part of my life, but I couldn’t do that because none of them had chapbooks or anything. They just had scattered publications.”
Four Chambers Press was the vision in Friedman’s mind after he realized not only how good local literature was, but how much of a demand people would have for it, especially when exposed to it. His hope is to experiment with the downtown atmosphere and see if it is truly possible to have a successful literary scene in 2014.
Shawnte Orion is one of several poets to be featured in the publication. He said that while it is necessary for writers and artists to evolve along with technology, just as the magazine must do, it is also their duty to push back against it.
“Recent technological advancements have refined and deified the fast-paced art of distraction,” Orion said. “It is important for artists to remind people of the benefits of slowing down for concentration. When I am asked to read at a Four Chambers event, I am trying to get people to ignore their cell phone notifications for a few moments and share a live experience.”
Orion said that through this mechanism, people might be inspired to take an issue home and let the world continue its “chaos all around them, while they thumb through some pages and encounter new ideas.”
The publication is currently semi-annual and has already released one magazine. However, in the off-time between publications, Four Chambers Press hosts events in order to keep people involved.
The first of these was an open mic event at Lawn Gnome Publishing, but it didn’t have a large turnout. The organization’s events have evolved immensely since then.
At the Phoenix Public Market every first and third Saturday, Four Chambers Press hosts open-mic-style readings that draw sizable crowds. They also had a “literary oddities” event at Grand Avenue’s Frontal Lobe Community Space and Gallery in March, which brought several spectators eager to hear the six poets that performed.
“I’m currently in the brainstorming stage,” Duran said. “I don’t have details for (events) yet, but we will be partnering with local comic book artists to showcase work from Issue 2 this fall. We are looking to organize writing workshops over the summer and there is a public-transportation project that (Friedman) is very passionate about.”
The public-transportation-themed literary movement will consist of flash-mob readings on the Valley Metro light rail, as well as encouragement to write while on the trains.
Duran said that he believes Four Chambers Press has increased the level of awareness of the Phoenix literary scene through events that have showcased a wide variety of styles from different writers, all of whom are based in Phoenix.
“We are committed to fostering a sense of community by using social media outlets to not only promote our own events, but others’ around town as well — there is a lot of great work from local writers being showcased all around town, and we want to make sure people know about it,” Duran said.
Although the literary scene has yet to thrive as much as the local arts and music scene, it has facets that are notable in the downtown community already, such as slam poetry. There are weekly poetry slams that draw in sizable, eager crowds to the backyard of Lawn Gnome. Through the bookstore slam competitions, a team was created to represent Phoenix in the 2014 National Poetry Slam in Oakland, California.
Also at the bookstore is the weekly Yarnball Storytelling event. People flock to the same backyard in order to tell stories in an open mic setting based on a different theme each week.
The host, Dan Hull, teaches high-school English and also hosts a similar event at Space 55.
“I can’t think of anything in terms of our literary scene where there was ever a real community,” Hull said, noting that the music and arts scenes in Phoenix have been apparent for years. “There might have been, but it might have been so far under the radar that I just didn’t hear about it.”
In the 25 years that Hull has been a part of the downtown culture, he said there has always been a strong poetry scene. However, he said that he thinks there is a new demand for more solid forms of literature.
“The thing with poetry or music is that it was tied into a scene where people could sit around and drink beer or coffee and socialize,” he said. “In a sense so did the art scene, so it had several functions on a Friday night. A literary scene and having a magazine is kind of a different thing.”
Hull said he has seen several literary journals pop up over the years, but they have faded over time. However, Hull was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the first issue of “Four Chambers” and believes that their goal of not only producing a magazine, but also coordinating events, is a formula for success.
“The problem with Phoenix and having a literary scene is that it needs a social component and (Phoenix is) not a kind of town where writers are just going to get together and people are going to buy it,” he said. “The events help. Having the (release of the first draft) at FilmBar gave people the opportunity to have some beer and buy some books.”
Hull said he has friends that are not actively involved in downtown culture at all that know about “Four Chambers,” to which he credits Friedman’s ability to get the magazine into several independent stores around the area.
The second issue is underway and set to be released in October of this year. The publication is also currently taking submissions for its third issue, which will be released in March 2015. The deadline is November of this year.
While they continue to publish the magazine and come up with events, Four Chambers Press has the ultimate goal of becoming a publishing house, but Friedman said it is a far-off goal. Until then, they will continue to create an avenue for local writers.
“Big publishers will die out — the model just isn’t sustainable — but indie publishers will continue to grow, and there will be an ever-expanding marketplace for publishers passionate about great literature that are able to sustain themselves on a small sales volume,” Duran said. “This is where Four Chambers fits into the scheme of things: We publish high-quality poetry and prose couched in an attractively bound journal for people who care about such things.”
Editor’s Note: Becky Brisley works at Lawn Gnome Publishing.
Correction: June 6, 2014:
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the arrival of Jake Friedman to Phoenix. He originally came to Phoenix in 2011, not 2006.
Contact the reporter at Rebecca.Brisley@asu.edu