Laurels for Laura M. Kaminski: Praxis Magazine Literary Hero

Laura M. Kaminski

THERE AREN’T MORE WORDS I can say in tribute to Laura M. Kaminski than the outpouring of love by fellow writers below. When I attempted to write this the first time I typed a few words and deleted them and stared at the blank page awhile, then closed the word processor. I didn’t know where to start to talk about what happens to you when you first encounter Laura. She is an extremely beautiful human being. I have said “human being” here, and not even writer, because you might meet Laura—for many of us—as a result of your writing career but you learn from your interaction with her, not only about the writing life, but also the importance of love and being a human being.

At Praxis, Laura introduced me to her belief in inclusivity in art, which before meeting her I was indifferent to. (I still am a little.) But my tutorship under her showed me more and gave me a deeper understanding of her principle of inclusivity. There’s too much gatekeeping to go around; why don’t we have those in arts who can open the gates? Why can’t we accept and show that there’s a starting point in writing, instead of maintaining an iron hand on highbrow, kicking out the voices that can equally get a chance at greatness? And for the seven-plus years Praxis has existed as a magazine, this has been our work. To rally and promote voices. To put artists on the map—where many have been able to pursue their careers further, doing greatly, many of them. She wove this principle so intimately into the magazine that whether she remains as Managing Editor or not, her spirit will always remain in the fabric of Praxis.

In August last year, she emailed me and the Digital Editor, Tukura John Daniel, for a medical leave of absence to focus more on her health, which has been a challenge to her for a long time, and also indicated her resignation. We have had a little activity slowdown at the magazine, trying to cope with her absence because Laura was at the centre of things as Managing Editor. Every day passes and I keep thinking of—even before now—Laura’s inconspicuous labour and sacrifice to Nigerian literature working as the lead in one of its biggest magazines and adding value to all of us. Indeed, she is my hero—and I can even say, on behalf of every one at Praxis who she has touched, that she is our hero. Putting in work, making time, sacrificing, being a mother, being a friend, and celebrating art.

— Carl Terver

Shannon Hopkins: Laura was kind. To me and to so many other aspiring writers and artists. In a world that is often hard and cold, she had a gentle and inclusive influence. The creative world especially can be defined by exclusion, ego, arrogance, pomposity, and gatekeeping. Laura challenged this. She brought like-minded creatives together and inspired authentic connection. After all, we have a lot in common, so why should we hold each other at arms length?

For me, this is what Laura has really done for Nigerian, and global, arts and literature during her time as managing editor at Praxis Magazine. She held up a light for those who had come across so much darkness in their efforts to have their artistic voices heard.

That is not to say she was not discerning. Having assisted her on the poetry desk and as arts coordinator, the work we published together has always been good.

Her kind, confident hand will be missed at Praxis. Though, I hope we can take her legacy forward and continue to be as kind and inclusive as she has been.

Enjoy a well-earned rest now, Laura!

Tari Ndoro: I met Laura Kaminski in 2018 when I became the associate editor for fiction at Praxis Magazine and even our first interaction was a pleasant surprise.

Back in 2018, I was down on my luck and hardly believed in myself. When Praxis advertised for an associate editor and an editorial intern, I immediately applied for the intern position because I felt I was unqualified. I didn’t even expect to hear back from anyone. Within two days, Laura had gotten back to me and told me she was happy to see my application and that I was under consideration for the associate position. That wasn’t the last time I experienced Laura’s kindness.

Throughout my onboarding process, Laura made sure I was comfortable and whenever she assigned a task I was nervous about she offered encouragement. Not only that, whenever any of the writers we worked with were happy with my work, Laura always used that to affirm me. Whenever there was any bad feedback, I was always quick to apologise but Laura jumped in to defend me.

She was the first good boss I had that wasn’t only interested in my productivity but my health and well being as well. When Laura asked anyone how they were, she wasn’t just being polite – she really cared. And I think that applied to everyone. Even after I left Praxis, Laura made it clear that she was still my friend. Laura is a rare diamond and I’m happy I met her.

Osahon Oka: Laura Kaminski is a special person to me. I believe that if not for her, I would probably be done with writing. She basically dragged me into the Nigerian literary community. Before meeting Laura, before Praxis Magazine, I knew no one in the literary community. I was writing in a void. I wasn’t even submitting to any journals or anthology. I was submitting to contests because that was as far as I could think with my writing then – win a contest, get attention on my work.

Laura, believing in me, brought me to Praxis Magazine, first as a contributor, then as a reader, then as an author in Praxis Books. In each process, she was the one who pushed me towards doing better enough to deserve each recognition she gave. Because I didn’t want to disappoint her belief in me, I pushed myself.

There was and continue to be love in everything she has done in the literary world and especially with Praxis. Even in our last email, she still referred to my collection of short stories, which she holds dear. For me, she is the Praxis in the magazine, the centre of all our pursuits. When I cross a milestone in my writing, I tell her and we celebrate and that is enough for her; knowing that those who gathered around her are moving forward in their pursuit of literary merit. I think Praxis Magazine is a family that I will always hold in my heart and this is so because of Laura Kaminski.

Michael Emmanuel: A typical Praxis week travels this way: I receive an email in my inbox, early that week. The email holds three to five packets of poetry submissions, mostly in .docx format. I am often excited. It isn’t the excitement of reading new poetry. It is not that I do not love reading the poems. It is that often, I anticipate, even more than the poems, the words that introduce those poems to me, words written by Laura.

I met Laura through an email. I had made a short story submission (which would be accepted and published) to Praxis, and during our correspondence, she queried my interest in reading for Praxis. Thus began the intensive process of learning the system.

Over the next three weeks, she sent me packets, gathered my thoughts, sought my opinions, and gave clues. We talked about Praxis. Even more, we talked about literature. Nigerian literature. African literature. How poetry was shifting conversations, why short story and essay writers all made significant contributions.

Laura encouraged frequent communication. Whenever I forwarded an observation about a submission, or something I had spotted on the website, her response would be so quick I would wonder if she had foreseen the question.

The first time I witnessed Laura go on a break, I was slightly worried. I had been occupied with schoolwork and had assumed that my pseudo-absence from social media had prompted the break in communication. But then I sent her a message and didn’t receive her response for a few days. When she did respond, I immediately understood why she had been away.

Despite the toll her health was beginning to take on her, the work at Praxis didn’t stop. We planned some of the poetry publications, revised acceptance (and rejection) mails, crafted emails asking writers to accommodate some edits to their poems. She handled the poems, and their writers, as though she was involved in every single writing process. Her commitment to building the confidence of submitters was often infectious.

Before Praxis, I had little editorial experience with a literary magazine. With Laura, I experienced the tenderness of bringing someone through a process, of believing that they would catch on, and cheering on when they did. It wasn’t just how she related with me – or all Praxis editorial team members – it was what she extended towards every writer: the optimism and hope that we, and our words, mattered. The optimism that we all someday need.

Thank you, Laura.

Anthony Madueke: I like to think the best description of my time working with Laura was that it had present an abundance of warmth. In the world of work and life and the little things in-between, you occasionally meet people who make things easier. Who recognise the ways the things we do can be burdensome and go out of their way to reduce that burden. When we describe our experience with people as being great, we are referring to the ways they provided us with ease. Laura was not merely efficient and diligent in the work she did with Praxis, she is also a great person, a warm person. She cared that I had lapsed into moments of difficulty that made contributing to the magazine a challenge and she wanted me to know that it was okay to navigate life in moments that relegate the creation of art to the background. She told me this in the ways that convinced me she understood exactly what I was passing through. Laura has an amazing appreciation of art and an outstanding eye for detail and this is a testimony shared by everyone who has worked with her. I genuinely wish she experiences a life of extraordinary happiness because I believe, without a shadow of doubt, that she deserves it. At the least.

JK Anowe: I met Laura sometime in 2015 and by 2016 we had become not only colleagues but very good friends. The thing with Laura is you think you are the only one who has a thousand good things to say about her but are quickly proven wrong. How easy it was back then, and even now, to stumble upon another who’s been touched by her kindness, the warmth, care, and consideration that goes into anything in which she’s involved.

Poetry was my reason for being in her Facebook DM that day; I was hoping she would look at some poems for me. And she did, even without knowing or having met me. I was a 21yr old, “a kid” by some standards, just finishing my undergraduate studies at the University of Benin. She hadn’t been the first older person or writer I had asked for help, but I remember she was the only one who said yes. I remember Laura saying she usually does not look at poems of random people on the internet, but that she had read a poem of mine published in Gnarled Oak, and she was impressed by it and was going to look at my poems. I must admit that it might have been exuberantly forward of me to have asked, even though politely. However, that was the beginning. Our relationship blossomed then on and solidified with us working together at Praxis Magazine Online.

Praxis published my first chapbook The Ikemefuna Tributaries in 2016. Laura was behind the initial and final formatting/proofreading of the book. Her remarkable contributions to it were what encouraged Tee Jay Dan to bring her on as poetry and chapbooks editor. She is solely responsible for curating and managing the Praxis Magazine Chapbook Series. Unofficially, I would assist reading poems and manuscripts, sending her my thoughts on them, while she made the final decisions. Like I said, I was something of a juvenile back then; I didn’t know much about what I was talking about but I was very curious and eager to learn and I think Laura sensed this and taught all she could teach me about preparing a manuscript to send out for publication, formatting and proofreading it. Until she came along, no one had paid any real attention to how much I could do as writer or that I could even become an editor. Working with Laura opened my eyes to how carefully and empathetically one must pay to others’ work entrusted in one’s own care. Working with her taught me editors were human too. Subsequently, she would become the managing editor at Praxis, bringing me on as chapbooks editor sometime in 2017, a position I occupied officially until fall of 2020 when I took a hiatus to focus on my studies. She was certain I could be the one to take her reins someday when she retired from her duties at the magazine. She never said this to me verbatim, but I could tell by the way she left certain responsibilities in my care.

In 2016, I wrote the introduction to Laura’s collection of poems, Anchorhold. Prior to this, I had never written a thing like that in my life, although I practically leapt at the opportunity, and she unreservedly said yes, much to my surprise. Not the yes but being open about how enthusiastic she was to read whatever I come up with. At that point, she had become such a pivotal influence in my development as a writer, and even as a person, that I had wondered what I could possibly do to show that I was at once awed at and grateful for her kindness and unwavering support. I considered her, and still very much do, a mentor; one of my firsts. But more importantly, she’s my friend, one of my very favorite people in the world. Looking back now, and even back then I thought I could have done a better job of that introduction. But not to Laura. She said she couldn’t have wished for a better intro. And I couldn’t help but absolutely believe her. Because why not? She’s Laura.

Darlington Chibueze: Laura Kaminski and the Eternal Gift of Genius and Generosity

In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce depicts the struggle of negotiating a balance between the pressures of talent and tradition. Tormented by the noise of a world hostile to freedom and insensitive to genius, the artist is redeemed only by the magic of the imagination, that creative force which makes their art transcendent, their labour productive, their joy enduring. Only one who has experienced the chaos and uncertainty that characterise the young artist’s life will appreciate the full measure of Laura Kaminski’s achievement as an artist. Transcending the limits of mortality, Kaminski bequeaths to us poems in which life is a cherished, eternal gift. But it is in her role as editor that the light of her generosity and genius shines brightest. At Praxis Magazine Kaminski and I have worked on several projects in the last five years. In this time, she has affected me with her capacity for excellence and her faith in the potential of young writers to excel. I remember with gratitude how she held my hand during the publication of Through the Eye of a Needle, my edited collection of creative nonfiction essays which captures life as it were at the heat of the pandemic. A true artist with a towering spirit, she demonstrated through her confidence in my curatorial skill that it was possible to overcome the pandemic by harnessing the redeeming power of art. I look back and look forward and I see that Kaminski belongs to the present and the future.♦

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