celebrating the unconventional with caitlin davis

Posted on 6 min read

Caitlin Davis has spent the last few years providing a platform for telling the stories that aren’t heard often enough. As co-founder of the independent literary and arts magazine, The Raffish, Caitlin and her partner, Justin McKee, have been collecting and curating works of poetry, short stories, essays, and the visual arts that celebrate the diverse human experience. Their contributions often come from writers and artists from disenfranchised or impoverished communities, including senior citizens and incarcerated individuals.

The Raffish, which is defined as “winsome unconventionality; possessing qualities that are engagingly disreputable; attractively offbeat or unorthodox”, has the mission to empower and celebrate the unique beauty of what it means to be human in today’s world. As a writer, creative, and dedicated story-teller, Caitlin shares with us all about how the magazine came to be, what keeps her inspired, and what we can look forward to next.

Can you tell us a little bit of background about you and your creative journey?
I’m from Bolingbrook, IL, a suburb of Chicago. I was just a little kid sitting in my windowsill when I wrote poetry for the first time, as I imagine most people are.  Both my parents are creative former hippies, my mother an extremely talented illustrator and visual artist and my father a truly gifted songwriter and musician. It made for one of those rare environments which encourages poetry, and I’ve continued to seize the opportunity to this day.

What themes or issues do you often visit in your writing?
Most of my poetry is an examination of personal experience, a lot of it about that delicate, rarely achieved balance between the power of emotion and objective reality. I’m also passionate about social politics and the way we perceive each other’s humanity, so I suppose the themes I visit most frequently are kind of expansive and I frankly have a tendency to spiral outward in my writing. Not much in the way of Instagram-able micro-poetry here.

How did The Raffish come to be? Have you always wanted to start a literary magazine?
My partner Justin and I met while working at a nonprofit in New Orleans. We were always telling stories and one day he casually mentioned a dream of his to open a book shop/community center, a place where people could come together to share stories and connect. This conversation led to several others, and as we shared our passions with each other the vision for The Raffish was born.  The idea that storytelling can help us understand each other and build healthier communities was the foundation, and the magazine became the first of our platforms for this.  Personally, I love literary collections, indie mags, zines and all kinds of diverse publications that feel good in your hands. Until the idea for The Raffish as a magazine was born I was just a consumer of these things, so the thought of creating something of our own was very exciting for me, and the process has been a reward in itself.

What makes you and Justin a successful creative team?
Justin and I are both writers at heart, but excel in different aspects of manifesting The Raffish. He is a passionate and engaging communicator in almost every setting, a natural-born editor and constantly seeks forward motion. I lean more into the areas design and flow and am very meticulous (often moving at a slower pace) in my work. This has created a natural balance of strengths and a division of duties. We are very much two individual artists, so although sailing is never perfectly smooth we compliment and respect each other’s process in ways that, I believe, make The Raffish both intriguing and meaningful.

The Raffish is committed to telling the stories of individuals from “all walks of life” – including the impoverished, the elderly, and the incarcerated. Can you tell us about the process of reaching out to these individuals, and how they responded at the opportunity to tell their story?
We are learning as we grow, so our process as far as reaching out to the communities whose stories we aim to share is ever-evolving.  We initially began by reaching out to our own communities, and were connected to our repeat contributor Brian Ruiz this way.  Since then, Brian and his community of fellow peer leaders at the Illinois correctional facility where they’re currently serving time have been so passionate and generous in sharing their stories with us. I am constantly moved by the beautifully hand-written letters we receive from them.  In addition, we’ve organized story-telling nights at a local senior living facility and hosted a salon at an urban farm in our community in New Orleans.  We hope to continue connecting with programs which empower those who have been disenfranchised, and we’re constantly seeking out new voices through our expanding community.

What makes the Raffish unique, and why is it important for readers to see the diverse human experience?
I’ll quote my partner, Justin, and say, “Put simply, diversity makes us stronger, as individuals and as a human race. We live in an incredibly complex and contentious time where many would have us believe in the power of conformity, uniformity, and a monolithic notion of what a society looks like. The reality is that, by almost any metric, diversity empowers. If we’re going to make progress, we need to understand each other’s experiences. The fact that those experiences are so incredibly varied is what inspires us—and what makes each issue of The Raffish unique.”

How do you stay inspired in your work?  
I think for me it’s less a battle to stay inspired and more a battle to make space and time for creating new work.  I think most of us, when we’re really, acutely aware of our environment, are constantly inspired, and every submission that we’re fortunate enough to receive at The Raffish is a source of inspiration.  It’s making the choice to actively tend to our individual crafts in a world that’s pulling us in so many different directions that is a hurdle.  I try to remember that sharing the work, whether it’s my writing or art or The Raffish, creates a sense of purpose, and that to feel truly fulfilled I need to make that space and time to create for myself.

When pursuing a passion, it can be easy to consume yourself with the work you love. How do you maintain a sense of balance in your life?
Honestly, I’m not sure that I do maintain a sense of balance all the time.  I sometimes delve really deep into my creative goals and come out with satisfying results, but soon afterwards lean heavily into my other work to compensate for the expenses, with a good amount of time in between dedicated to my ever-changing idea of self-care. So, it’s more like a briskly rocking boat than balance, but hey, I usually stay upright!

You recently relocated from New Orleans to NYC. What has that transition been like for you personally, as well as for the magazine?
For me personally, this transition has been, in a word, exhilarating. I feel big and small and powerful and inconsequential all at once, which I guess is expected in a city like New York. Saying goodbye for now to New Orleans was very, very hard. That city is one of the most uniquely inspiring places in the world if you ask me, and Justin and I could not have launched The Raffish in a more creatively supportive place.  While we miss New Orleans very much, this move to New York has been an exciting, nonstop supply of further inspiration and future connections. Each day we learn about countless more programs and avenues through which we can connect with people whose stories we aim to share.

What’s new on the horizon for The Raffish? What are you most excited about?
We’re constantly curating and publishing new content on theraffish.org as well as expanding our readership and contributor base. Development is also under way for new audio and visual aspects of The Raffish, like our upcoming podcast in which we have challenging conversations with a diverse array of creators on topics social, political and lots more. Anybody who’s interested can subscribe to The Raffish on our website and follow us on social media via @theraffishmag.

All photos provided by Caitlin Davis.



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celebrating the unconventional with caitlin davis