Veronica Elizabeth Thomas is Breaking Down Publishing Barriers for Creatives of Color

By Rebekah Harding

The late Toni Morrison famously said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Inspired by her words, Veronica Elizabeth Thomas has dedicated herself to bridging publishing gaps and uplifting creatives of color through the foundation of the art and literary journal, Call + Response Journal.

What started as just an Instagram page has developed into an annual print edition and ongoing digital publication. From poetry to art to short stories, no two pieces are alike on Call + Response Journal, which launched it into a thriving platform showing the many corners and nuances of the experiences of people of color.

I got a chance to sit down with Thomas, a senior Africology and African American studies major, on a cloudy Thursday afternoon on the wooden bleachers in Saxbys. She’s familiar with Alter Hall. Long before Call + Response Journal was brought to life, Thomas started her freshman year at the Fox School of Business. But, a class in the Africology and African American studies department changed the course of her career. This class was The Black Woman. 

“I had never taken a class with the word ‘Black’ in it, let alone ‘woman.’ I was like, ‘oh my god I have to take this class,’” Thomas explained. “I was just ready to grasp something I’ve never experienced or learned before.”

Photo Credit: Veronica Elizabeth Thomas

Photo Credit: Veronica Elizabeth Thomas

Only a semester in, she switched her major over to Africology and African American studies (with a minor in English), and fell in love with the diverse opinions and experiences being discussed in her classes. 

The name Call + Response references a West African storytelling technique Thomas studied in her African folklore class, where the storyteller calls out a line or lyric and the community of listeners responds with another. 

“You sort of see that same thing today in gospel music where the pastor or the lead singer will say one line and the choir will say the next,” Thomas said. “When I was thinking of Call + Response, I wanted to add that element of what I’ve learned from Africology and I wanted it to feel very communal.”

Call + Response Journal’s arachnoid logo also pays homage to West African folklore. The spider god, Anansi, is the patron of storytelling.

“We really wanted to embody the whole idea that our roots are in African worldview,” Thomas said. “And we wanted to pay homage to all of the thoughts and ideas that came before us, and the community that has come before us.”

Thomas uses her passion for writing as a way to self-soothe and heal from past trauma. Instead of a diary or a journal, her pen creates elaborate short stories as her characters navigate their world with her emotions.

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But when Thomas wanted to branch out and publish her work, she found herself frustrated by the financial barriers put up by popular literary journals against creatives. Instead of paying their writers for published work, literary journals often use submission platforms like Submittable, which requires writers to pay to submit, with no guarantee of publishing. 

“I was submitting my work and getting rejections and when I started to do my research on these literary journals and seeing who is the editor, I was losing myself trying to cater to them,” she recalled. “A lot of the editors are older white men, and I write from a very womanist, Black perspective. So, I could tell that my work was not resonating with them.”

I asked Thomas about the term “womanist,” that she proudly displays on all of her social media bios and on the About page of Call + Response Journal.

“I love the word ‘womanist.’ It has such a strong imagery with it. To me, I don’t call myself a feminist because I believe in intersectionality. The word ‘feminist’ has roots in the word ‘female’ and not every woman is feminine, and not every woman is a biological female,” Thomas explained. “If I am an intersectional activist, I want to make sure that the labels I give myself are intersectional and welcoming.”

She calls this label “home place,” allowing herself to embody a safe space for others regardless of their identities and walks of life.

“I want to be a standing home place where people can be comfortable around me and feel like they can be themselves,” she said. “There are so many different identities that we meet in a day and we may not always know it and people should be comfortable with one another.”

She has woven this identity throughout her writing and her philosophy at Call + Response Journal.

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On Aug. 8, in her home in Germantown, Thomas launched the print issue of Call + Response Journal Volume I. Being in print is a big deal for a new publication, and a huge risk, but she sold out completely. Her walls were full of artwork by artists featured in Call + Response, sculptures were on display, and poets published in Volume I performed their best pieces to an intimate audience. 

The production of Call + Response Volume I had been rigorous, especially when paired with maintaining a thriving online publication. Thomas knew from the start that she wanted the growth to be organic and not stray from serving underrepresented creatives.

“From the jump, I said I want to post artists with 5,000 followers or less,” Thomas said. “There are so many big artists out there and they make wonderful work, too. But part of the core of Call + Response was I wanted to give exposure to emerging artists and writers who don’t get the attention that someone with 50K would have.”

Volume II is currently being conceptualized by Thomas and the rest of the Call + Response team, and is set for an August 2020 release. The digital publication is uploading new pieces weekly, and you can submit your piece via Call + Response Journal’s online submission page.

Veronica Elizabeth Thomas has no plans to slow down. She is humble, but she believes in Call + Response and lets her work do the talking.

Thomas ended our chat with some simple guidance.

“I found that confidence is key and if you believe in yourself, people will believe in you,” Thomas said. “And if you have confidence in your project, people will see and and be inspired by that.”