Last summer the North American Review celebrated its 50th year at UNI (and the 204th year since its first issue!) with a complete revamping of the magazine’s design. At the January 30, 2020 Final Thursday Reading Series, the first NAR of the 2020s will make its debut in an event featuring NAR editors, student assistants & contributors. This interview features Poetry Editor Rachel Morgan, Managing Editor Brian Pals, Fiction Editor Grant Tracey, and Multi-genre Editor Jeremy Schraffenberger.
So, this is the third issue of the North American Review since the big redesign/rebranding? How has it gone and have the design changes impacted how you think about what you publish?
JEREMY SCHRAFFENBERGER: So far we’re all very pleased with the new look and feel–and the newly articulated mission of NAR. Because it’s the oldest literary magazine in the United States, we didn’t take on the work of rebranding lightly. It was more than a yearlong process, guided ably by our Art Director Sarah Pauls. I don’t know if I’d say that we’ve selected different kind of work to publish since the rebrand–we’ve always wanted to present beautiful, artful, necessary writing to our readers–but we’re certainly more aware of our guiding principles of remaining eclectic, open, and restorative.
Can you walk through the process of getting an issue out the door? What does it take to bring together everything?
BRIAN PALS: The process starts by reading the submissions we get through Submittable, and from here students and editors work to select the pieces for publication from the thousand upon thousand of submissions. Once the piece is contracted from the author, it enters production and goes through a multi-step proofing process. The pieces are laid out in InDesign and then a mock-up of the issue is made. From here, production moves more quickly, as students and editors pour over the issue and once the issue is proofed, it’s off to press.
Any changes worth noting in terms of the kinds of submissions you are seeing or the kind of work likely to be published in the magazine?
RACHEL MORGAN: I’ve been reading poetry for the NAR for a few years now, and I’m excited to see more experimental work come through submissions. Not only did we redesign the print NAR, but also our digital publication: Open Space, which allows us to publish hybrid, mixed media work, as well as longer narrative poems, such as Stephen Haven’s “Old Boston Roads,” that weaves the reader through memories and “a city in blossom.” Having an innovative digital space allows us, and perhaps more importantly, our contributors to create beyond the confines of a page. I think as editors, we all like to see a mix of classic craft and experimental work.
JS: Among the many things that NAR is, it’s also a learning laboratory for students, who are involved in production every step of the way. The student staff is currently made up of undergraduates enrolled in the NAR Practicum (a really great course, by the way), grad assistants, and a few interns. Running a literary magazine is also like running a business, being a publicist, as well as editing, so students who work with the NAR develop a wide variety of skill sets, and returning students get to hone skills they’re passionate about like promotion of the magazine and its content via social media or design and production. You can see some of their work on our Twitter and Instagram.
Any particular favorites/standouts from the new issue?
GRANT TRACEY: I like all four stories in this issue, but two really stand out. Kate Campbell’s “Boiling Out” is a compelling piece that mixes an offbeat exploration of misguided mentorship (a farmer who is also a WWII veteran and two high-school boys), hyper masculinity, and harrowing past trauma that coalesces into a vibrant yet subtle Vietnam-era, anti-war story. Campbell’s willing to present men behaving badly, objectifying women, but they are believable and always interesting. Erin Flanagan’s “Hold Steady” has a wonderful splash opening: winter storm; a bus slips into a ditch; Mom stuck in town; the bus driver, Lucy, our narrator, is stuck taking care of Avery, her final passenger and Mom’s daughter. They make it to Avery’s house and wait things out. The big question: “So there’s booze in the house?” Flanagan knows how to create a strong narrative arc and expertly plays with time, building her story to a quiet resolve. Beautiful.
RM: The redesign of the magazine and our digital space allows us to publish unconventional work, like the graphic poem “Protest Against” by Naoko Fujimoto. The poem is a dance of boxed handwritten texts, “my first love letter hid origami paragraphs” against Picasso-esque figures and face that populate the page. Red spills across the middle of the poem, and I love the way it takes the reader in, first visually and then through text. This poem will be in her forthcoming book Glyph:Graphic Poetry=Trans. Sensory (Tupelo 2020).
JS: We’d be remiss if we didn’t point out the winner of the James Hearst Poetry Prize, Katy Aisenberg’s exquisite “The Invention of Ether.” While the poem is set in 1846 in Boston, it speaks directly to our time: “They had no thought that their civil country would suddenly split in two / Like a woman laboring to bring forth an unwieldy child.” The poem is part of Katy’s newest manuscript The Ether Dome, which she says is “based on the theme of forgetting–personal and political. The first operation done under general anesthesia was performed at Mass General Hospital; this ‘experiment’ in forgetting pain organizes the poems in this new collection.”
Of course, let’s end with a plug. What should people expect at the FTRS issue release event? How can someone subscribe to the NAR?
JS: Each of the editors will be reading passages from their favorite pieces in the issue, and some of the students who worked in the NAR office in the fall will read the pieces they selected to edit and prepare for publication. There may be a modest offering of music (bring your harmonica!), we’ll be giving away free back issues, and there will be door prizes. Those in attendance will be encouraged to subscribe to NAR, but otherwise people can visit northamericanreview.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
–Interview conducted by Jim O’Loughlin