We live in an age of convergence. The number of animal and plant species is rapidly shrinking; so is the number of languages. We see housing developers continue to hit copy+paste on subdivisions and mini-city apartment complexes across the United States. Multinational brands starve out and replace small businesses in cities and rural areas, and social media algorithms are even pressing indie cafes and breweries into an aesthetic corner. The natural world and the built world are trending toward sameness.
Topograph is our attempt to help mitigate that trend in a few ways. First, we'll reveal the manifold shades of similar worlds by publishing fresh and diverse perspectives. Second, we believe art and criticism can provide background, nuance, and depth to conversations about place, and even help preserve or protect a place if it's in danger. We'll seek writers who engage with local issues and illuminate the trends underneath the trend toward a grayer, flatter world. Third, we're bumping setting up the chain of importance in life and fiction. The stories we tell are essential to the process of placemaking—how humans give places meaning—and we'll be a platform for writing that reminds us of our primal relationship to our surroundings or reimagines that relationship.
These aims informed the choice of our name, Topograph, from "topography," the depiction of changes in elevation and terrain on a map. We want to create a different kind of map, charted and described with stories, poems, penetrating observations, critical arguments, and new or newly relevant ideas. While we may publish individual elegies, Topograph is not a eulogy for a dying planet. We think that narratives for the future of any given place, and for the planet, are hot metal in a forge, and we hope you'll join us in shaping those narratives.
In this issue, our first, we open with an interview with writer and teacher Elizabeth Greenspan, who discusses how buildings in cities communicate, the failures of urban renewal in the twentieth century, and the visionary architects Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi. In our fiction section, the emotional terrain gets hilly, quick. In Sonia Chien's short story, "The Grove," a trip to the countryside becomes a confrontation with binary thinking. A group of friends second guess preemptive doomsday preparations in Liam Greenwell's story, "High Consumption," and a student navigates a pair of goodbyes in Rafael Milan-Mingoa's story, "Eucalyptus Memorial." And in our nonfiction section, Jill McLaughlin reflects on an attempt to run away from a broken affair in "Degrees East."
Two of the issue's poets—Káyọ̀dé Ayobami and Priyanka Sacheti—reveal characters worth considering where we might've hurried along, and Yakir Ben-Moshe, the third poet, translated by Dan Alter, reminds us of the chance the night offers to steal back a bit of youth. We've also got place-based reviews from Emily Desormier and Sakshi Wadhwa—these reviews are a pilot section, which we hope to fill with entries about everywhere still untagged on Google Maps; subway elevators and desks at the library, for instance.
It's been a year since we hatched the idea for Topograph in a cafe on our favorite street in Washington, DC. The response to our call for submissions makes us think we're not alone in our concerns about convergence. Now, we're thrilled to publish an inaugural selection of writing about place, and we look forward to building on it.