Interview with a Journal: The Georgia Review
In this installment of Interview with a Journal, we sit down with the editorial staff at The Georgia Review: Ben Rutherfurd and Nathan Dixon (Graduate Editors), Gerald Maa (Editor), Douglas Carlson (Associate Prose Editor), C.J. Bartunek (Managing Editor), and Soham Patel (Associate Poetry Editor).
The Georgia Review is a literary-cultural journal published out of the University of Georgia since 1947. The Review seeks to feature “imaginative work that challenges us to reconsider any line, distinction, or thought in danger of becoming too rigid or neat, so that our readers can continue the conversations in their own lives.”
The Spring 1978 issue saw a new manifestation of Georgia Review, which contained an art portfolio, a full-color cover, original work from the traditional three genres, and an extensive review section.
In recent years, the Review has seen a growing emphasis on the uncanny ability of a print journal to cultivate community engagement and building.
What appeals to you about working for a literary journal?
Ben Rutherfurd and Nathan Dixon (Graduate Editors): After years of formal training as readers and writers, we wanted to enact our literary citizenship in new ways. When working relatively isolated from a literary community, say, while pursuing a graduate degree, there’s a myopia that can set in. Consumed entirely with one’s own work, it’s easy to forget that attending to the work of others can—and should—be foundational rather than ancillary. We don’t see a clear line between the process of active reading and the process of writing.
We both came to the review believing we had something to offer. We wanted to take part in certain conversations happening both locally and globally, but we also wanted to help curate them. It’s a fine line to walk, serving the interests of a journal while also putting your touch on them when possible.
We’re both relatively new here and aren’t full-time employees, but we were both readers of the Review beforehand and so knew what conversations were being foregrounded. We have been able to develop our own academic interests through those conversations, not just by advocating for work we find but also by writing book reviews and putting together GR2 features. When you are surrounded by others who value the questions you are asking in your own work, it serves as a constant reminder that ideas are cultivated best in the company of others.
Why do you love literary magazines?
Gerald Maa (Editor): That’s a question I’ve found endlessly thought-provoking. In my first letter to our readers, for Winter 2019, I introduced myself by asserting, “A print periodical is capable of cultivating communities in ways no other medium can.” Subsequently, your question has been at the forefront of my mind, in various shapes at various times, and I’ve often used my editor’s letter to continue to ponder this conviction, its causes and consequences. For the current issue, I’ve considered friendship as a mode of periodical reading. I’ve also written about the essentially time-bound sense of the contemporary special to journals, the difficult punctuality of specifically print periodicals, and long-standing periodicals as literary institutions for collective work.
Right now, I’m really into thinking about the literary journal as a clandestine space for a community’s periodic meetings, a small public within a public whose concerns and milieu grow idiosyncratic through collective interaction over time. Although it is my essay on W. E. B. Du Bois and the Black church that has prompted this line of thought, the closest personal corollary for me are the punk and metal clubs that were the mainstay of my youth. I started going to, say, Emo’s of Austin because that’s where bands I liked played when in town, but I started to go weekly when I realized I’d likely like any show that happened on that stage, not only because attending regularly was teaching me about the forebears and peers around the bands I loved. Moreover, I bought into being part of the community, engaging the culture, concerns, and local happenings that were all coming out of that space. These groups need not be insular, although some are. Houses of worship and commercial music venues typically are not. (We too welcome everybody.) But once one commits to the scene, then something magical can happen when it consumes your life.
There’s a lot more for me to say, and think through, for that matter, on this sense of the literary journal as clandestine meeting ground, but one thing I’ll say for this interview is that the wait between shows was delicious. During the “off days” I’d be obsessed with reflecting upon the past show and speculating about the future, interpreting what just happened and preparing for the one to come, often in conversation with my “school friends” who were also part of the scene.
We tend to speak of literary journals as the lifeblood of contemporary literature purely in terms of publications (stories, essays, and poems that feed into a book), but literary journals keep literature vigorous, multitudinous, agile, and robust, I believe, also in terms of everyday practices of communal work and intellectual curiosity.
What is one of your favorite pieces that you’ve published? Why?
Douglas Carlson (Associate Prose Editor): While it’s impossible—as well as risky—to choose a favorite, two essays stand out for me. “The Carcass Chronicle” by Robin Patten (Fall 2018) is grounded in research, observation, and interrogation and still manages to ascend to moments of poetry and wonder. Lauret Savoy’s “Pieces toward a Just Whole” (Spring 2009) reassembled my thinking about environmental writing forever. Both authors are scientists who complement the rigor of their methodology and discourse with generous hearts and independent spirits.
How did being on the staff of a literary journal change the way you read?
C.J. Bartunek (Managing Editor): As a younger person, before interning or working in publishing, I probably thought of literary texts almost exclusively in terms of their authors; now, when reading published work, I am much more conscious of and curious about the others whose knowledge and skills may also shape our reading experiences. With journals and magazines, I think about the editorial decisions implied by the selection of works published and the extent to which an overarching vision or argument emerges, and how that extends or departs from a publication’s historical identity. Reading in any format, I am more attuned to presentation and to the work of designers, copyeditors, proofreaders, and fact-checkers that when done well are paradoxically most invisible to readers, most of the time.
Still, if the writing is compelling, my thoughts of InDesign and font sets and the Chicago Manual of Style fall away pretty quickly. When reading an unpublished work, I am less likely to assume it’s absolutely fixed in its current form; even if I don’t think a piece succeeds on the terms it creates, I try to see what is working and what I believe could be developed further or pared away to let what is distinctive about the work shine. Perhaps my ideas will not resonate with its author, but I’ve learned that most writers I’ve worked with have been receptive to questions and appreciate careful readings of their work, even if we don’t agree on every point. Many pieces The Georgia Review publishes go through substantial revisions, guided by one editor or another.
The publishing and media industries have recently undergone a long-overdue reckoning in how they handle equity and diversity. How can literary journals promote inclusivity without indulging in tokenism? What actions have your publication taken to support equal representation?
Soham Patel (Associate Poetry Editor): Long overdue, yes, so there is no quick fix, no magic number for equal representation since, even within marginalized communities, there are still infinite identities, styles, and possibilities for content focus. This year we are collaborating with the Ledbury Emerging Critics Programme, which encourages diversity in book reviewing culture, because as a journal we recognize that the question of inclusion and diversity in literary publishing is complex, and book reviewing is often overlooked in the conversation, even though reviews are a vital part of an author’s legibility.
Our forthcoming Spring 2022 issue, titled “SoPoCo,” for “Southern Post-Colonial,” will celebrate voices from diasporic communities in the US Southeast. Working under this theme allows us to complicate questions of migration, particularly in the South: a region with a very rich history of African, Arab, Asian, Eastern European, and Latin-American diasporic communities.
Diversity is a consequence of our reading practice, not some artificial endpoint. We avoid tokenism by approaching editorial work from oblique angles and creating different avenues for widening inclusion including inviting our contributors to their own communities and networks for querying. It is not difficult to find great work by the multiplicity of identities that form our literary communities. TGR works to make itself visible as a journal where that work can thrive and grow.
Tell us about your submission process.
General submissions for poetry, fiction, essays, and book reviews are open from August 15th to May 15th each year. We charge a $3 processing fee and pay $50 per page of prose and $4 per line of poetry. Each spring, we hold our Loraine Williams Poetry Prize competition, which honors a single poem.
Submissions for the “SoPoCo” themed issue will be accepted until October 15, 2021. Please visit thegeorgiareview.com/submit/ for full details and guidelines.
–Ben Rutherfurd and Nathan Dixon (Graduate Editors), Gerald Maa (Editor), Douglas Carlson (Associate Prose Editor), C.J. Bartunek (Managing Editor), and Soham Patel (Associate Poetry Editor)