Friday, April 07, 2006

Visit to the Ninth Letter

Time Spent: 4 hours.

Today, Joanna and I spent time at The Ninth Letter at the UofI Urbana Campus. We talked quite a bit in the car and had lunch with one of the grad students, so it was a full day for us!

First, let me say that driving a car on Wright Street, less than 200 feet from the quad, on a warm Friday morning? Big mistake. Huge, large. Now, on to the story...

I talked with Jodee Stanley, the editor of the Ninth Letter, and two of the grad students who work there. I asked her the same questions I asked Richard Newman from River Styx. The answers are very similar:

Me: What kinds of submissions do you get?
JS: Get literary submissions, but also get art submissions. NL has been around for just a couple of years, and is a joint project between the Graduate English Program and the School of Art and Design.

Me:Do you respond personally to submissions?
JS:We have levels of responses. There's the standard response to most rejections, but we do send some personal responses if the MS generates interest. We'll encourage a writer to send a different work if we liked something that wasn't necessarily appropriate for the journal. Might work with an author on a specific MS if it's that good.

Me: Does one person make decisions regarding submissions or do you decide differently?
JS: First, poetry students read poetry and fiction students read fiction. Unsolicited items get in the slush box and are read in order - two no's gets an automatic rejection. If the reader likes it, it makes it into the weekly meeting and gets a personal note from us.

Me: What do you look for in a submission to accept it?
JS: Since we have such a range of esthetics in the students, everyone is looking for something different. The basics though are writing quality, something that's innovative or skewed, something that has a sense of investment - the story has to be written. There is no Ninth Letter style - we want to try something different with every issue.

Me: What might make you reject a submission?
JS: If something looks very similar to something we've already said yes to; the machanics of an issue help us decide as well. And then there's bad writing and stories that lack investment or spark.

Me: Do you think about your audience when putting the journal together, or do you accept what you like and think will work well in it?
JS: If we picked things only a few of us liked, the journal would have a very narrow focus. The student staff makes a case for works and when they do this, we'll consider a piece. If we like what's going in, we figure the audience will like it as well.

Me: Do you see any advantages or disadvantages to remaining a print journal vs. going to a completely online format, esp. with the Ninth Letter being so cutting edge?
JS: The website is run by the school of art and design and english assists them - online is a multimedia version of the journal. The print version is run by the English program, and the school of art and design assists. We're integrating a bit more now. This is a project instead of just a literary journal. The website has something from the print edition that's expanded.

Me: What are some of the best things about being an editor? What are some of the worst?
JS: Best - the hours are great. I don't work much in the summer when we're slow. I get to read a lot. Worst - stress, creative energy for editing takes away creative energy for writing, funding worries, and we're not sure how the journal is registering with the new chancellor and administration.
Amy: Best - the MFA program helps you develop a thicker skin. Worst - need to be invested and can get frustrated easily. It's also important for creative people to be professional, and you sometimes don't see that professional attitude.
Adam: Best - you learn to appreciate things not in your own esthetic and can abandon some judgments and preconceived notions. Worst - Sometimes the mental toll is as exhausting as doing physical labor.

Me: Is there anything you wish you had known before becoming and editor here? Would anything have changed your mind about it?
JS: May not have chosen to edit if I'd known how much it would have affected my writing.

A big thank you to Jodee, Amy, and Adam for tkaing time out of their busy schedules to meet with us. We appreciate it!

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