In her new magazine, Brangien Davis puts the focus on the female and the funny. Even when the subject is facial hair.

By Leslie Atchley (English '05)

Photo by Anne-Marie Musselman.

One quick flip through the pages of the magazine Swivel is all it takes to see that this is no ordinary women’s publication. A short story titled “The Girl Who Was Led by Her Loins,” a comic strip called “My Life as an Action Figure” and a diary-style vignette that begins by bemoaning the problem of female facial hair are just some of the quirky, witty entries in the critically praised debut issue.

Swivel: The Nexus of Women & Wit is the brainchild of Seattle freelancer Brangien Davis (English ’90). While searching for a place to submit her work, Davis discovered that “there really aren’t places for women with a sense of humor.” Most of the women’s magazines and journals she came across expressed female issues in tones of anger or depression. “But that’s not how the women I know deal with heavy situations,” said Davis, “They use humor instead.”

With the help of friends who spread the word to female writers across the country via email, Davis received a staggering 250 submissions for the first issue, which debuted in July 2004. She also contacted some of her own favorite writers and asked them to consider writing a piece for Swivel. She was thrilled with the results. “I’m constantly astonished by how generous people are with their writing, their time and their interest in getting this magazine off the ground,” she said.

The humor of Swivel is not about jokes, Davis explained. She instead looks for “high-caliber writing with a lot of wit.” In her letter from the editor for the first issue, Davis applauds the female writer’s “ability to take a mundane, stressful, or tragic situation and swivel around to see it from a different perspective — one that reveals its essential humor.”

But there was a less serious inspiration for the title as well, said Davis. “I just think the word is fun to say.”
Distributed primarily through a Web site and independent bookstores, Swivel is a labor of love for Davis. She works as a freelance journalist and teaches humor-writing classes in Seattle to help finance the expensive printing costs. She hopes to break even in the near future by increasing distribution, but for now she is focused primarily on finding the most uniquely humorous work that female writers have to offer. “I never want it to become predictable,” said Davis. “All successful humor is based on surprise, so Swivel should reflect that fact.”

With the positive reception of the first issue by readers and writers alike, Davis and her volunteer staff went back to work to produce a second installment, which comes out March 4. The new issue, said Davis, will resemble the debut in its mixture of writing that’s both “funny ha-ha” and “funny strange.” In April, Swivel will begin reading submissions for a third issue, in which they hope to feature a piece by a male writer to be called (what else?) “Token Male.”

The best advice for potential Swivel scribes? No more stories about creepy Internet dates, please. “I just got so many of those!” Davis exclaimed with a laugh. “I know it’s the state of affairs but it doesn’t necessarily make for great literature.”

Instead, she’s looking for originality and edge. And of course, as the online submission guidelines proclaim, she’s “not averse to naughty bits.”