Local literary magazine set to take flight

By Alyssa Julie

Mario Jamal was leaving an Ottawa coffee shop in mid-July when he stepped on a sparrow, killing it.

He named his up-and-coming literary magazine The Sparrow, in memory of the dead bird.

“I began to see a lot of correlations between the name [The Sparrow] and the idea for the magazine, which was to focus on short stories,” he says.

Sparrows, he says, live in the present and that’s similar to the way he views short stories. They are great for people who lead busy lives because the reader never has to remember where he left off, he says.

The Sparrow, which is a new Ottawa literary magazine with its first issue planned for early to mid-November, will specialize in tantalizing short stories.

Currently, Jamal is in talks with a number of Ottawa businesses that he says are enthusiastic about distributing paper copies of the magazine.

Readers can also read an online version at the magazine’s website.

“This magazine has been an idea of mine for many years. The literary arts have been my personal passion for a long time and I decided I wanted to find out what it takes to start a magazine, how hard it would be and what kind of response I would get from the community,” he says.

Jamal adds that he does not have an academic background in the literary arts, having studied biology at university.

Tyler Willis, co-founder and associate editor of an Ottawa prose magazine, The Puritan, says new Ottawa publications have their work cut out for them.

They have to work hard to build an audience and raise funds, he says, which can be difficult in a city that already has many literary journals .

There are about 10 literary magazines in the city already.

There are a few grants, he adds, but most magazines are self- funded.

Fundraising is something The Sparrow has already been dabbling in.

They packed the house at a fundraising event at the Avant Garde bar on Besserer Street in September and Jamal says they will probably hold a launch party for the magazine in November.

Willis has some advice for Jamal, if he wants The Sparrow to stay afloat.

He says Jamal should be prepared to take his publication to festivals and small press book fairs – anything that will help get it noticed.

The literary community in Ottawa, he adds, is a great place to go for advice.

“It’s really an open community where everyone wants to support each other,” he says.

Dave Merleau is an aspiring writer who submitted his short story, “The Calling,” for publication in the first issue.

He thinks The Sparrow is a great idea.

“Within a multicultural city such as Ottawa, that prides itself on a multiplicity of voices, having a variety of publications could only be good,” he says. “That’s the thing about The Sparrow, or at least the feeling I get from it, is that it is meant to bring a voice to people who wouldn’t otherwise be heard.”

Merleau, who has never had his work published professionally, says he hopeshe’ll be one of those voices.

Visit The Sparrow and submit stories at http://thesparrowmagazine.com.