Twin Cities writers, including Guante and Kao Kalia Yang, launch op-ed collective "Opine Season"

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Matt Peiken, Kao Kalia Yang, and Guante, with Opine Season's banner and logo.
In early February, nine writers gathered at Pizza Luce to talk about what their new website, a writers' co-op focused on op-eds, would look like. One month later, they launched Opine Season.

In their two weeks of publishing so far, each of the nine core writers has, as on a newspaper's opinion page, laid claim to a specific day of the week. Mondays belong to Guante and Colleen Kruse, Tuesdays to Lolla Mohammed Nur and Matt Peiken. On Wednesdays, Vina Kay, Chaun Webster, and Ricardo Levins Morales weigh in, and on Thursdays, Kao Kalia Yang and Brian Lambert.

The writers come to the project with varying degrees of experience: Yang, for instance, is the author of the acclaimed memoir The Latehomecomers, while Ricardo Levins Morales is primarily a visual artist. But each is motivated to contribute, as Guante (a.k.a. Kyle Tran Myhre) explains it, in order to "feature voices and views you wouldn't get from the two big papers."

"Sure, the internet is full of opinions," Guante continues.  "But I think the thing that drew me to this project was the idea of solidarity: a dozen different writers from different communities, with different readerships, sharing different ideas -- but all connected to the Twin Cities -- coming together at one site to cross-pollinate those ideas and readerships. That's a powerful thing."

Matt Peiken, who spearheaded the project, agrees. Peiken was a reporter at the Pioneer Press for a decade, including a stint during the 2006 election season on the paper's editorial board. After taking a buyout in 2007, he missed editorial writing, but wanted a vehicle bigger than just a blog. He also started "looking at the landscape of opinion writing around me," he says, and found it wanting.

"There's a real absence of philosophy and boldness and a voice for strong opinion writing," Peiken says. His final straw came "the minute" his former employer published a controversial "non-endorsement endorsement of the marriage amendment," Peiken explains. "Rather than grouse about it on Facebook, I wanted to do something about it."

Peiken decided to start recruiting writers for an op-ed co-op. He wanted a diversity of voices and backgrounds, but a common political perspective. "I didn't want to rehash the battles of whether or not global warming is real," he says. "I wanted to start from a place of all of us agreeing on that, and then where do we go with it. I think we can go much further starting from square two than square one."

Peiken had tenuous connections to the first four writers who signed on, and from there, the rest of the collective filled out through referrals. The final group is "sort of a motley assortment of people who nobody would have collected together on their own," Peiken says.

Though Peiken got the project together, he's not acting as editor: writers don't run their ideas by him, and he will only alter posts to make minor grammar fixes. He is, however, clear on what he sees as the difference between opinion writing and a blog post.

"I want everybody to draw from the personal, but then take it to a higher elevation," Peiken says. "How does your story illustrate a larger point?"

Op-eds so far haven't shied away from that higher elevation. Sample posts include Guante on how men can work to dismantle rape culture (and another on Macklemore), Levins Morales on what hitchhiking taught him about activism, Mohammed Nur on "being a third culture kid," and Yang on the murder of a Hmong man. That last post has, to date, been the site's most popular, which Peiken views as a measure of success.

"The people who you don't see represented at all in local opinion writing, those are the people who are getting the biggest readers so far," Peiken says. "Kalia's an amazingly sensitive writer, but those readers are also hungering for somebody who speaks to them."

While the site's readership grows, the nine core writers are still seeking a tenth collective member, and continuing to play with the new challenges and opportunities that the op-ed form offers them.

"I'm used to working on my own deadline, and having a set-in-stone weekly deadline is definitely a challenge," Guante explains. "But it's healthy, too. Also, I'm a poet, but there's something that's always drawn me to the op-ed as a form. It's short, ideally, and direct; it doesn't pretend that it's not trying to convince you of something."

Yang expresses a similar relationship to the new platform. "There is a strong activist impulse in me, and Opine gives me room to act with words on a regular basis," she says. "Writing columns on a deadline is forcing me to be much more open. I don't have time to be overly concerned about how I am doing. Instead, I have to focus on what I want to say."

As for what's next, Peiken says that he hopes to grow the fledgling audience, and, though the site is non-profit, that outside opportunities come to the writers who are involved.

"We're predictable in our schedule but unpredictable in our content," he says. "And I think hopefully we strike a nerve in that combination."

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