Saturday, September 20, 2008

Scholarly and Literary Journal Experiment Part I(a): Virginia Quarterly Review

The Virginia Quarterly Review, or VQR (no italics), is the premier literary journal of the University of Virginia, where I had an amazing time in graduate school what is becoming quite a few years ago now. It is thick, shiny and beautifully printed, a reality that smacks of financial support beyond subscriptions and prayers. The editor in chief is Ted Genoways, an accomplished poet with many laurels, including awards for his helming of the quarterly.

Its cover stories tend to be heavy, serious and political, but once you go inside it is surprisingly accessible. Here is its editorial philosophy as stated on its electronic submission page (I LOVE their requirement of online, electronic submissions, yesh!)

Editorial Philosophy

VQR strives to publish the freshest, most accomplished writers of our time. We are partial to work that is conscious of language without being self-conscious, that pulls readers in with drama and emotional risk, rather than holding them at arm's length with gimmickry and tricks. In short, we seek writing that uses intensely focused language to affect the way that readers see the world. A well-crafted poem, story, or essay is, at its heart, a statement of refusal to accept conventional wisdom and instead study the world for oneself. We seek that writing which illuminates what we, as a culture, may learn from such close inspection.

To me that says "Write originally and like yourself, not like a safe, imitative MFA program product." That may not be what is meant, but I completely hear and agree with the whole "work that is conscious of language without being self-conscious" thing. Dunno if that's what I'll be able to accomplish (I can type nonsense that's as tepid as the next monkey's), but hey, it's a start. There are a lot of other wacky submission rules such as only one per six months (whatever) and them having a reading period that lasts only from September to May (double whatever), but I have always ignored such things. I send what I want when I want, and if it is roundfiled, well, peace be upon you. My experience is that solid submissions are always welcome.

A careful reading of the author biographies in the Summer 2008 issue is illumating, and intimidating. Natasha Trethewey won the Pulitzer Prize for a collection of poetry. Two of J. Malcom Garcia's contributions to VQR were named notable essays by The Best American Travel Writing. James Kirchick is an assistant editor at The New Republic. Gregory Orr, whom I knew of as a professor in the writing program at the University of Virginia, has had fellowships from NEA and Guggenheim. There are more. I'm quite intimidated, and I mean that unsarcastically. Why the heck am I starting a public experiment like this one with VQR?

To get to know the journal better I'll read some back issues (the ones I should have read when they arrived), absorb every meaningful article I can find about VQR and Genoways, and also do some research about upcoming issues. More in a (b) post.

1 comment:

Waldo Jaquith, VQR said...

To me that says "Write originally and like yourself, not like a safe, imitative MFA program product." That may not be what is meant...

That's exactly what's meant. :)

There are a lot of other wacky submission rules such as only one per six months (whatever) and them having a reading period that lasts only from September to May (double whatever), but I have always ignored such things. I send what I want when I want, and if it is roundfiled, well, peace be upon you.

Ah, and therein lies the beauty of electronic submissions. We simply shut down the system from June through August (when the university is on break, and thus we have no readers), and we prohibit anybody from submitting more than two submissions (up to one batch of poems and one prose piece simultaneously) by simply not providing them with the ability to upload anything more. If we allowed people to submit work come June 1, that would just be rude—it would be months and months until they heard back form us. And by restricting how much and how often people can submit to us, we avoid the shotgun approach of people sending us everything that they've got for us to sift through and find the best stuff. We receive north of 10k submissions each year; wed like the authors to pick out their best stuff for us.

Good luck with your experiment!