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!)
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.