South Florida writer explores Miami’s quirks in new historical journal

When Jason Katz graduated from college in 2010, the future didn’t look so bright. As an English major in the midst of an economic recession, he didn’t have many options. So Katz took on a wide array of jobs, from tutoring and waiting tables to working in real estate. 

But he never lost sight of his true passion – writing.

“I had a ton of jobs in between then and now, but I was always writing on the side,” said Katz. “It was a tough environment to be an English graduate.”

After saving enough money, he decided to return to his origins by publishing critical writing pieces and informing himself on digital magazine publishing and how the industry was evolving. 

In 2021, he created Islandia Journal, which focuses on visual art and writing about Miami’s myths, folklore and tradition.

“I wanted to publish something that I would want to write for,” said Katz. “I wanted to create the space that I wanted because I knew if I wanted it, other people would want it too.”

The idea came to him during the pandemic, as Katz looked for ways to not only remain entertained, but also connected.

“While we were all separated from each other, I could still engage with my creative peers locally,” said Katz.

To kick off its debut year, Islandia Journal won a $60,000 grant from the Knight Foundation, which made up 3 percent of the total annual Knight Arts Challenge Award, designed to inspire and encourage local artists.

“I think Islandia Journal does an incredible job of not only elevating Miami history, but also, encouraging local writers and other artists and creatives in a way that’s fun and super interesting,” said Adam Ganuza, chief of staff at Knight Foundation.

The Knight Challenge is extremely competitive, with around 2 percent of the applications actually receiving a grant. Islandia Journal stood out among hundreds of applicants.

“Since we’re a place that many consider a stop on the way, people think that we don’t have history or culture here, and that’s not true,” said Ganuza. “And Islandia Journal is one of the great non-profit arts organizations in the town that disprove that again and again.”

Islandia Journal’s name is inspired by a once-incorporated string of Biscayne Bay islands in Miami-Dade County. Originally discovered by the Tequesta people, some developers envisioned  Islandia becoming the next Miami Beach. However, the county abolished the city in 2012, because of environmental concerns. 

“I liked the idea of naming the journal after a lost city,” said Katz.

Islandia still exists today, though no longer incorporated as a city, and it’s composed of 33 islands that are only reachable by boat. Back in the 1960s, there were plans to connect the islands to the mainland with a causeway. Planners proposed a seaport and luxury hotels along the archipelago. Environmental concerns doomed the plan,  and most of Islandia became a part of Biscayne National Monument in 1968.

As the name Islandia Journal suggests, the Miami scene and folklore greatly inspires Katz’s work.

“I came to Islandia Journal because I already had an immense love and appreciation for Florida and the Caribbean,” said Katz. “The opportunity to dive deeper into these mythological or folklore landscapes is really a privilege.”

In less than two years, the journal has released six issues, the most recent in December 2022 and featuring Booklandia, a partnership with Booksleggers library where rare, out-of-print books are scanned into the digital realm.

Expected to be released sometime in March, Islandia Journal’s seventh issue will include the second installment of Booklandia, as well as exploring Miami transit throughout history.

“I do think each issue gets better and better because we learn and we hone our practice each time, we figure out which pieces work best for the journal,” said Katz.

While issues are sold online, eight physical locations all around Miami also stock issues of Islandia Journal.

Although the journal focuses on local stories and culture, Islandia Journal has shipped issues internationally, to Asian and European countries.

“I think you have, especially in today’s spread-out world, you have people who are fascinated by this stuff,” said Katz. “People are interested in Miami all around the world.”

Islandia Journal  was a finalist for the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses’ Firecracker awards in the category of “Best Debut Magazine,” and was named the “Best Zine of 2021” by Miami New Times.

“It’s great to get that stuff. It’s not why we do it, but it helps,” said Katz. “If it helps us continue to run the magazine as we do and churn out more of these reexamined histories of South Florida and the visual art and poetry and fiction, then I love it.”

Anyone interested can submit a story through the journal’s website under one of four categories: non-fiction, fiction, poetry, and visual arts. 

“That’s the most gratifying part, when people reach out and send their pieces of folklore or pitches,” said Katz.

Sofia Colignon is a senior at Florida International University double majoring in English in the writing and rhetoric track and digital communication and media in the digital journalism track. After completing her studies next summer term, she wishes to pursue a career within the entertainment field.