Sipping whiskey with Leah Stephenson and Sarah Miniaci, bad-ass babes behind Toronto's new online arts and lit mag, Burner

Sitting at Sidecar with Sarah Miniaci and Leah Stephenson, masterminds behind new online art and lit mag Burner, I can’t help but feel like I’ve stumbled across two ass-kicking, whiskey-sipping fairy godmothers. The women, whose frustration with the literary establishment led them to create a magazine for “the chick who reads Cosmo and Kierkegaard in the same sitting,” are intellectual art junkies, and a cocktail hour spent with them will take you on a mind-bending conversational journey through robot philosophy, sexual politics, being crazy in love, evil cheeseburgers, and, of course, the artists and writers for whom they are trying to create a home. The first issue of their artscape contains work from contributors who range from a 15 year old Californian poet, to former Rolling Stone writer Rob Spiegel, to the founder of Canada’s only literary erotica magazine. Read on, and discover the manifesto of the Burner Babe.

Where did the idea for the magazine come from?
Sarah: We were so bored with all the literary publications out there.
Leah: We went out to dinner one night, and this idea of starting a publication that would fit our interests was one of the things we discussed.
Sarah: That kind of faded, but we started writing each other letters.
Leah: The romantic part!
Sarah: There was a void that needed to be filled. And then one day, I just had this ephiphany. I could wait around for somebody else to make something that I want to get published in, and then hope that they like me, or I could do this myself, having met somebody with whom I could actually do this, hand in hand, 50/50 partnership. We do want people to know that if you see something that could be done better, DO IT! What is stopping you? Muchmusic? The pursuit of a perfect body? Fuck it! It doesn’t matter. Because that’s all going to go away anyways, babe. No matter how hard you work.

Who is a Burner Babe?
Sarah: The Burner Babe is the chick who reads Cosmo and Kierkegaard in the same sitting. The Burner Babe is the sexy intellectual. The professor who’s 35 and wears really great blazers, and reads Vanity Fair in between lecturing on astrophysics. It’s anybody who is of a certain level intellectually but doesn’t feel the need to be trapped by it. You can have brains and beauty, you can have cool and funny. For me, this is actually an idea that has been going around my head a lot longer than Burner’s existed. That very concept that somehow, it’s not very acceptable to be both. Especially for women. You’re forced to choose. You’re either going to be pretty or you’re going to be smart.
Leah: And if you’re both, you intimidate. I mean, I noticed it. It’s not like I had a shortage of boyfriends or anything, but there was definitely an intimidation factor. They would find you attractive, but when you start coming out with ideas that are more than 2 + 2 = 4…
Sarah: I certainly had no problem with the boyfriends other than the fact that I’m a smart-ass with a higher IQ than them.
Leah: And you get bored. My husband was the first intellectual equal, and physically so attractive, and artistic.
Sarah: We love men too. There are Burner boys and there are Burner babes.
Leah: We’re just playing with stereotypes, which suck, and any Burner babe knows it. Art comes from the world, it’s processed through the artist, and it goes back to the world. And if you break up any portion of that, you just destroyed the whole process. It’s the people who are willing to just trust their guts and feature what they think is good.

What are your hopes for the magazine?
Sarah: Love inspires fantastic things, and that’s what we hope Burner achieves. Something that people are excited to read and go back to. As a writer, you have those pieces and those poems that you just love and you go back to.
Leah: And you want to share them with the world. You’re just like, why is this sitting in my notebook, just because it’s not talking obliquely about a forest in Saskatchewan? We want to give a home to all of those pieces.

Give us some Burner Babe cultural homework.
Sarah: I would say Magritte, Bukowski, and Let It Bleed by the Rolling Stones. Leah and I are a little different.
Leah: I would probably go Abbey Road by The Beatles. And Dali.
Sarah: Everybody is a Beatles person or a Stones person.
Leah: I would say it’s a good way of describing our dichotomy, though.

What are some of your favourite pieces from the first issue?
Sarah: The work by Jeremy Hanson-Finger. He’s the founder of Canada’s only literary erotica magazine.
Leah: When I read that one, I just went straight to the work. And then I saw his name, and then I saw the bio, and I just thought ‘whoa, am I tripping out here?
Sarah: It’s the most beautiful, empathic, and passionate story about technology and love and all of the things that, as an intellectual myself, fascinate me and make me want to do what I do. I really liked Lisa Stegeman’s paintings. I want to put the evil cheeseburgers on the wall of my twelve year old daughter’s bedroom one day, like an evil Parisian mother.
Leah: My process, always, was to just open the work.
Sarah: Ultimately the submission criteria for Burner is if you compel me, and really make me want to come back and read it again. It’s like shopping. If I’m still thinking about it after 72 hours, I’m going to pay for it. It’s not who you are, or why you write, or what themes you write about .
Leah: It had to compel me the whole way, and it had to compel me at a really deep level too. It had to be pleasing, it had to be engaging, it had to have a level of form and function at the same time. The art moves in you. It makes you think.

Where did the name come from?
Sarah: I was waitressing for a brief month or so, and it gave me a lot to write about, gave me a lot of stories and ideas and time to daydream. It was a rainy day, and the cook and I were in the kitchen singing ‘I Am The Walrus’ to each other, and there was a burner in the kitchen. I thought, that has a lot of nice connotations.
Leah: From the yogi side of me, there’s that deeper spiritual connection of burning desire to make yourself better. It’s also hot, it’s sexy, it’s edgy, it’s got all those connotations. Burn her, there’s even the sort of feminist witch hunt type thing going on there.
Sarah: There’s a stoner vibe to it.

You guys throw a party, Burner Thursdays, at Andy Poolhall every week. What’s that about?
Sarah: Burner Thursdays are a place for anybody who believes in the Burner ethos. It’s a weekly hub. We always have a guest DJ. They can spin anything from indie rock to hip hop to old school hip hop to dutch house, whatever. There’s the resident, Barletta, and we play Burnerific mixtapes and music and the stuff that inspires us. I would describe it as a hub for people who like the idea of the magazine and the do it yourself approach that we have going, to meet up. And we’re not looking to have super crazy head smashing parties. We’re also of different generations musically.
Leah: Which is great, because you get this whole huge hodge podge.
Sarah: I’m about nineties grrrrl rock,
Leah: And I’m about the ‘70s and the ‘80s
Sarah: I’m the ’60s and ’90s.
Leah: I like grunge 90s and industrial 90s.
Sarah: I’m like chick rock 90s. I love Courtney Love I don’t care.
Leah: She’s lovable. I’m just so busy listening to her former husband.

Sarah: I was listening to America’s Sweetheart the other day, the most underrated Courtney Love album, the one that everyone hates but that actually has some really good tracks on it. And I was bitching to this friend of mine about the fact that Courtney is a Burner Babe in the way that most people, if you play a good track, won’t actually say that Hole sucks, or that Courtney sucks, they’ll say ‘Oh, well Kurt wrote the songs for her.’ I’m like, why can’t you give a woman credit? He actually didn’t, there’s documented proof that Doll Parts was around before she even met Kurt.
Leah: But they fell in love because they were both Burner Babes.

By Haley Cullingham

2 Comments

  1. michael
    November 2, 2010

    the Burner Night has moved to Thursdays at Andy Poolhall

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