The Making of a Literary Magazine

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Over rooftop whiskey, poet Paul Legault became acquainted with Lit magazine’s founding editor, Mark Bibbins.

This rooftop experience welcomed Legault to New York City and its vibrant community of poets, literary figures, and in this particular case, New School literary journals like Lit magazine.Lit is the literary mouthpiece of New School’s MFA program,” Lagault said. “And whether you like it or not, the journal creates a time capsule for what the public can claim as a ‘New School’ aesthetic. It’s exciting that the current students can do that much to shape it.”

With Eugene Lang College’s undergraduate literary journal, Release, transitioning into 11 and ½, literary publications within the New School community continue to be relevant. 12th Street functions as a journal for work happening in the The New School’s Riggio Honors writing program. It also holds web and print launches bi-annually at Barnes and Noble. Lit, run by the New School MFA creative writing program, has featured pieces from many well-respected poets and writers such as Rosmarie Waldrop, K. Silem Mohammad, and Graham Foust.

“Instead of necessarily reflecting what’s being talked about in the classroom at New School, we’re hoping that conversation becomes a part of a larger conversation which is that of the writing community in New York City,” said Jeff Johnson, editor-in-chief of Lit’spoetry section.

Editors at Lit hope the work in the magazine reflects the image they have of The New School.

“Off-beat, forward-thinking and innovative, but also amiable, playful and fun,” said Jeff Johnson, describing the work the magazine features.Lit isn’t the only New School-affiliated literary journal. Release, has undergone new faculty advising. As the journal gets a face-lift, Mark Statman, associate professor of writing at Eugene Lang, has high hopes.

Release has mainly been a journal of student writing,” he said. “What we’re trying to do with 11 and ½ is have it be the literary journal of Eugene Lang College.”

11 and ½ will function more as the “mouthpiece” of the Eugene Lang writing program, much the way Paul Legault described how Litfunctions for the MFA creative writing program. Instead of a showcase of solely student submissions, 11 and ½ will feature poets and writers both student and non-student.

“As far as I can tell [the change from Release to 11 and ½ is a really positive thing,” said Daniel Ellis-Ferris, a Lang undergraduate who worked on Release and is now working on 11 and ½. "The team that’s working on it is allowed so much more creativity. Rather than working within a box, we’re creating the box."

The journal, set to launch next semester, will feature student writing, but editorial staff will make a conscious effort to reach outside the student body for material. Their debut release will feature an interview with and work by poet Charles North.

“[Interviewing North] was actually really fun,” continued Ellis-Ferris. “I was expecting it to be a lot more vigorous than it was. He was really laid-back, really awesome. He practically led the interview. He really played ball with us. Personally, it was really nice to meet someone who has a literary career, but is also a real person.”

Ellis-Ferris’s involvement with the New School-affiliated literary journal led him a step outside the classroom to interact with a working, reputable poet.

As a result of her work with 12th Street, Liz Axelrod, an MFA creative writing student, now with the editorial staff for Lit magazine, got the chance to meet Mary Gaitskill, a literary idol of hers.

“We met at Cafe Loup and talked for an hour and 20 minutes,” Axelrod said. “When we were finished she said to me ‘Liz, when you edit this, please make me sound good.’ I realized then that even our literary idols are just like us. They have the same fears and insecurities as we do. It was a revelation.”

Axelrod’s interview with Gaitskill appeared in the May 2010 edition of 12th Street and won the Associated Writers and Writing Programs Awards for both design and content.

Like Ellis-Ferris, Axelrod connected with one of her literary idols through involvement with a New School journal. Participating in The New School’s literary magazines has helped students learn from the established writer, and for the writer to be aware of attitudes and trends amongst aspiring writers.

“Readers [of literary journals] are fellow writers, or are particularly interested in what goes on, artistically, in one place,” explained Mark Greif, an assistant professor of literary studies at Lang. “I come from Boston, and in Boston there were terrific literary journals that represented different towns, like Cambridge, or Somerville, and different sensibilities, like the experimental and the traditional.”

Additional reporting by Aaron Light and Andrea Vocos

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