Samantha Anne Carrillo already had a couple decades’ worth of editorial and publishing experience under her belt when in 2019 she started Southwestness, an online magazine focusing on “art, cannabis, compassion, culture, nature, resilience, style and wellness here in the high desert.” I’ve known her for years. We used to swap obscure music tracks (she knew about ten times as many as I did), and later I worked with her at the Weekly Alibi, where she was managing editor and music editor. After that I wrote some freelance stories for her when she was managing editor of ABQ Free Press. So I’ve admired her good taste and editorial sense for ages, plus she and her partner keep adopting geriatric dogs and who wouldn’t love that?
Samantha was nice enough to sit down with me (virtually) on a chill mid-December day and chat about the current trajectory of her work.
Lisa Barrow: Hi Sam. Thanks for agreeing to this interview. Like I mentioned in the intro, we’ve known each other for years, so probing your mind could get interesting. I think we should start off with a little background about Southwestness. What is it, why did you create it, who’s it for?
Samantha Anne Carrillo: In the simplest terms, Southwestness is my love letter to so-called New Mexico. The first incarnation of that love letter was Things in Light, which was a site I created in 2011 that loosely focused on New Mexico but had a much less defined mission. With Southwestness, the present focus has to do with our mission statement verbs: listening, learning/unlearning, thinking and resisting. Because of the pandemic, one of the site’s focuses has become our Remote Viewing virtual event picks, because it’s hard to stay engaged and creative when you rarely leave the house.
I’ve always been fond of the notion of striving to reject boredom. That, I think, coupled with the fact that I am still regularly excited and challenged by the artistic output and cultural landscape of New Mexico means I’m still excited and surprised by reporting on, beholding and aggregating the produce of local artists. I think it’s for anyone who appreciates New Mexico and shares an interest in art, style, culture and wellness. Those are our primary focus areas.
You’re very explicit throughout the magazine about those verbs as goals. Can you talk a little about your approach as a writer and editor? How does Southwestness diverge from other NM-centric publications, like those glossy mags supported by tourist boards? Would you say you’re engaging in a form of activism?
My engagement with journalism has always had a cultural bent. When I edited local newspapers here in Albuquerque, I always prioritized arts & culture coverage and, while I’m not a traditional reporter, I’ve always been interested in advocacy journalism … which is now usually referred to as movement journalism. However you define it, it provides an actionable framework for answering that question I encountered in my first (and only) journalism class. There was this notion that fair and balanced reporting is a math formula: 50% of one perspective and 50% of another. That doesn’t get to the heart of anything. It always struck me as a sort of PR-plus. In the real world, facts exist and science is real. So what I aim for, both in my own reporting and in editing and when coaching other journalists, is to present smart/informed coverage. Since Southwestness is my own site, I have the freedom to report on our corner of the world based on my own perception of the world. There’s no question that this perception is still evolving and thank goodness for that!
I think being honest and wearing your beliefs on your sleeve is probably a form of activism circa 2020. Hopefully that won’t be the case in another generation or two. I feel like Generation Z has a much better handle on notions of social justice than my own Generation X. Haha, am I rambling?
Not at all. No one’s gonna believe you threw all that together off the top of your head. But you totally did! Okay, I have some more questions about Southwestness in general, but I do want to make sure I ask about your brand-new, first-ever (right?) HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE. What’s on offer? How did you go about putting it together and deciding what made the cut?
Yay! Okay. One of the main things I do to stay on top of the local arts scene is endlessly scroll through Instagram. At least in pandemic times, I think it’s one of the best ways to expose yourself to new art, style, culture, ideas. Here in New Mexico, there are just a ton of wildly talented artists & makers. I chose the products for this first gift guide based on sheer radness and prioritizing products created by BIPOC and orgs that promote wellness — one of the products I totally eeeee’d at was the Frybread Cosmetics’ eyeshadow palette. It was inspired by the yummy, indigenous food served at Shundine’s Fry Bread Stand before the pandemic. When Shundine couldn’t cook because of lockdown, they created this rad eyeshadow palette based on and named after like, Frybread, Frito Pie, Hot Pickle, Mutton, Indian Taco and Iron Skillet. Then there’s Define Your Movement’s black rosary-style Mask Chain. These are small batch, locally made products that directly support BIPOC folx.
Yes! I thought that eyeshadow set was so killer too (when I read about it in your magazine!). Instagram seems to be a great hub for small-scale makers right now. That brings up something I find really interesting about your influences: You and I, of course, have a history together working in alternative print journalism, and it’s always seemed to me like Southwestness has a print aesthetic, despite being web-based. Does that sound accurate to you? What are your intentions/hopes/dreams around its format? Is there a balancing act that goes on for you between print aesthetics and web surfability and shareability? (Sorry, I think that’s like 20 questions rolled into one.)
I think, like you, my background in alt.weeklies predisposes me to the notion that print is superior. But, if you had asked me just a few years ago whether I would be reading longform nonfiction and fiction via ebooks in 2020, I would’ve laughed. And that’s my norm now. I mean, yes, I totally miss the smell of lignin but instant access and portability are awesome, too. I love the idea of putting out a fun little zine but, at least until there’s a vaccine, I feel like every headline would X-ray read (like in They Live, you know?) “THIS IS A FOMITE.”
That does remind me of something. On the advice of a former colleague and future Southwestness contributor Karie Luidens, I recently created a publication account on Medium so potential contributors to Southwestness have the potential to make some money off their work. As you know, I’m not a “designer,” so that part of creating and running Southwestness has been a challenge. And my ADHD makes me want to redesign the site, logo, etc. every day, but I hope to focus on content and collaboration in 2021.
Well, you say you’re not a designer, but may I remark, your designs say something else. You definitely have a strong visual sensibility. In fact, that’s one of the things Peri [Pakroo, publisher of Pyrgraph] brought up to me when we were talking about this interview: that your work is always so visually striking and has a cohesive, distinct look to it. So you’re entirely self-taught? What kinds of tools do you use?
You are far too kind, but I’ll snag the compliments when and where I can. So I have read a few books on design and I’ve always appreciated art but I guess I didn’t trust myself with actually designing or trying to make art. It sounds silly in retrospect but I think pigeonholing ourselves into one category or another, like, “I’m verbal, not visual” or a sort of self-effacing “Aw, shucks, I could never do that” is rampant in our society and even those of us who rule at self-deprecating banter should probably impose less rigid limitations on ourselves in terms of creative pursuits. Oh, I like free photo editing apps and Canva.
Final question: You’re right about the self-effacement thing. Really you seem to be wearing a million hats in your roles of publisher, editor, writer and social media expert. What is your favorite part of doing all this?
It’s fun to work with design and, natch, to scroll through the Instagram posts of all these interesting, creative people based in the Southwest. Editing myself and fact-checking are less fun but, you know, necessary. I think the thing I enjoy most is when someone enjoys our coverage. Without an audience, any media is meaningless. And I really like my audience. I am a fan of the artists and designers and makers and activists whose work I report on or promote. My admiration for these people and this place are genuine. My commitment to this project is authentic, so I hope that resonates with readers past, present and future. Thanks for the interview, Lisa.