11 July 2013 11:18

Lancaster University’s Creative Writing Programme played a key role in bringing together four editors to work on a global online art and literary magazine.

‘The Missing Slate’ is a rapidly expanding magazine for all forms of art – visual and literary—with the key aim of upholding free speech.

It is primarily a literary magazine, but it also runs articles and social commentary and has a reputation for printing ‘the thorny and the taboo’.

The online and digital magazine was founded by Maryam Piracha, currently editor-in-chief, who graduated from Lancaster University with an MA in Creative Writing in 2011.

Since then Jacob Silkstone, literary editor (BA English Literature and Creative Writing 2010 and Creative Writing MA 2011), Lara Clayton, assistant poetry editor, (Creative Writing MA 2012) and Camille Ralphs, assistant poetry editor (due to graduate in Creative Writing this summer), have all joined the editorial team.

The magazine is run, via Skype meetings, e-mails and Asana, from Pakistan, although senior editors are also based in Norway, Romania and Canada, with assistant editors in the USA, Austria, Bosnia, Italy, Romania, India, Malaysia and China.

The team, who have an average age of 27, have published writers from around the world.

Since January 2013, the magazine has featured writing from 16 countries, including Bangladesh, Iran, Laos and Tunisia. It recently published a short story by Konstantina Sozou-Kyrkou, also a student on the MA Creative Writing programme at Lancaster.

When Maryam and co-founder Moeed Tariq, the publication’s Creative Director, thought of a magazine that covered the arts but also asked hard questions (through essays and reportage), the platform didn't actually exist, never mind one attempting to introduce Pakistanis to broader arts and literature.

“Slates have traditionally been forms of communicating, which, in most Pakistani villages, are used in place of more costly notebooks,” explained Maryam. “So the word was always going to feature in the magazine's name and, because the platform didn’t exist at that time, it was ‘missing’.  Consequently, we became "The Missing Slate" and our tagline is about addressing important issues that a ‘discerning metropolitan’ would be interested in reading, especially regarding the arts.”

Maryam said the magazine honoured talent and tried to incorporate as many styles and cultures as possible.

“If art can’t be quantified, it can’t be mapped either,” she added. “The Missing Slate provides a space for those who have something to say and are unafraid to say it. We will give our writers and editors protection if they wish to say something but choose not to have a byline and have often published material considered thorny or taboo.

“In the future, we hope to be able to pay the talent we feature and seeks sponsorships to that effect.”

Recently, magazine readership has increased significantly and has more than 9500 Facebook fans (having been around the 3500 mark a year ago). Most of the fans are from Pakistan. The digital edition's subscribers have just hit the 1,500 mark.

Literary editor Jacob Silkstone, who, on leaving Lancaster University, taught at a school in Dhaka before taking up a post at the International School of Bergen in Norway, said: “Pakistani writing is resurgent at the moment, with new literary festivals in Lahore and Islamabad this year. The Missing Slate is part of that resurgence, but our ambitions stretch beyond Pakistan.”

Jacob, who was presented with the University’s prestigious Alexandra Medal in recognition of exceptional performance in his studies, added: “We’re proud to support new names from across the world, and to publish writers who could have seen their work censored elsewhere.”

The Missing Slate has tackled issues such as women’s rights in Pakistan and Nepal, censorship laws, and being gay in Pakistan.

On the literary side, it has published Mir Mahfuz Ali, a poet who left Bangladesh after being shot in the throat at a political demonstration, and Sharanya Manivannan, a poet exiled from Malaysia after speaking out against the government.

Content is updated year-round on the web and a full digital issue comes out every quarter.

The team is looking to expand in the very near future with an online store and art gallery.

The online store will stock merchandise with quotes from the magazine and, subject to interest, may also have an annual print anthology for sale and delivery. All materials will be shipped internationally.

They also hope to work with the artists featured in the magazine, who include some of the best young Pakistani talents, on an online art gallery project where their work can be displayed and sold.