Literary magazines are alive and well at Butler University

The Efroymson Center for Creative Writing, an on-campus hub for literary community and progress. Photo courtesy of Butler University. 

LEAH OLLIE | STAFF REPORTER | lollie@butler.edu

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected numerous aspects of culture, but perhaps none so much as the arts. Performing dance companies are returning to the stage for their fall seasons every week, museums are revealing new exhibits every month and as is the case for the Butler community, literary magazines are still— and have been— operating at full speed. 

From first years to graduate students, there is a literary magazine community for everyone at Butler. Manuscripts a literary magazine housed on campus that accepts poetry, fiction, photography and art submissions from undergraduate students in Indiana has been a publishing institution since 1933. Booth, a national literary magazine hosted within Butler’s creative writing Master of Fine Arts program, debuted in 2009. Both have different schedules, submission guidelines and leadership but unite in a shared goal — to champion writers both inside and outside the Butler community.

Literary magazines are periodic publications of creative work, usually falling within the parameters of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, creative essays and art. Submissions range from no cost required to upwards of $25 USD per submission. Certain lit mags publish hard copies of their issues annually, quarterly, monthly or otherwise, and others stick to strictly digital issues. Some organizations center specific themes or types of artists, and some are artistic free-for-alls. For as many talented creatives as there are in the world— and at Butler— looking to find a home for their work, there is a lit mag to match. 

For Manuscripts, the pandemic yielded a large shift in the environment of the magazine. Manuscripts operates without a themed guide to submissions, so naturally many “quarantine poems” came across current editor-in-chief Miriam Berne’s desk. Berne is a senior criminology and creative writing double major, who has been involved with the magazine since her freshman year. 

“We had a lot of pieces that were somewhat cliche and about the pandemic,” Berne said. “Our magazine size was a bit smaller because submissions were less, but that’s something that has risen as we’ve gotten a bit back to normal.”

Meetings on Zoom for general staff votes were also complicated, and Berne found that getting the ball rolling for staff to speak their minds on pieces was a slight challenge. 

“You kind of see the editor-in-chief’s personality in general-staff meetings, which changes from year to year,” Berne said. “Last year Manuscripts was very much still on, but numbers were definitely a bit lower. When it was on Zoom and hybrid, it made it a bit harder to have conversations.”

For new students seeking to get a taste of the expectations of the literary world and Butler community as a whole, Manuscripts has been an invaluable resource. Jack Williams, a first-year creative writing major, appreciates the opportunity to grow alongside experienced writers and editors at general staff meetings.

“The most valuable part of the experience has been submitting my own work while reading others’ pieces,” Williams said. “In seeing what others are looking for, I can look at my own writing from another’s perspective. This process is workshopping with editors who write and those who consider an audience viewpoint, which adds another layer to feedback on my work.” 

Booth faced a different impact during the course of the pandemic, one that led the magazine in a focused direction. JD Amick, managing editor and third-year graduate student in the creative writing MFA program, said this shift— compared to prior years— centered graduate students on staff at Booth in terms of leadership, voting and editing. Amick joined Booth as a first-year master’s student and has progressed alongside the institution with the changing times. 

“I think from Booth’s inception there was this belief that this would be a predominately student-run literary magazine, and I think that is reflected in many of the ways we handle the voting process,” Amick said. “Even in the last few years I have been involved, I think there has been even more of a push to center students in Booth.”

Another new priority for Booth was leading by example in promoting equity within the magazine as well as in the literary world in general. A new equity statement was placed on the Booth website in 2020, as well as the elimination of contest submission fees for writers of color over the next five years. 

“We have made strides toward concrete things that we as an organization and the whole literary world can do to push for equity in the literary world,” Amick said. “We instituted some new policies last year that we think are tangible ways that we as an organization can say to the rest of the literary world that ‘these are actionable steps you can take to approach issues of equity, racism, homophobia, ableism, et cetera’ as opposed to your usual canned kind of statement.”

Manuscripts is also empowering its audience by expanding the boundaries many literary magazines might present to first-time submitters. Any undergraduate student in the state of Indiana can submit to Manuscripts for free to have the chance to see their work in print within the annual spring issue. One notable opportunity is the Manuscripts Poetry Contest, which is accepting submissions until Nov. 12. Both cash prizes and print publication are the prize for first, second and third place winners. 

Berne encourages students to take that first step, and gain the valuable experience of feedback or rejection.

“I think it is never too soon to submit,” Berne said. “If you want feedback, I think an undergraduate literary magazine is a great step to dip your toes into the larger literary world and publication world.”

Amick also holds this same belief, and professes the value of the experience of putting the work one would like to see into the literary world.

“There’s a lot of fear and anxiety from writers, at least that I personally experience myself, about submitting your work,” Amick said. “There is a fear of rejection that is palpable.”

Amick maintains that fear of rejection is understandable, but when given the opportunity to contribute to a literary community that aligns with one’s personal priorities, courage should outweigh that fear.

“To anyone out there who is thinking about submitting their work to a journal: it’s just a plunge you’ve gotta take,” Amick said. “Do your best to find a journal that is representative of the work you may enjoy, as well as the work you are producing. Be yourself.”

Manuscripts and Booth are both accepting submissions at this time. Until March 1, 2022, Manuscripts will be accepting submissions through Submittable. Until March 31, 2022, Booth will also be reading new submissions through Submittable. Information about the annual spring issue of Manuscripts and summer issue of Booth will be made available at a later date.

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