Literary Journals Class, the sequel

Last week I got to see the second iteration of Claudia Emerson’s Literary Journals course present their work, and you can color me impressed (for my post on the first iteration see here). This course was first taught last Spring as a kid of experiment in seeing if students could spend the first half of the semester studying contemporary literary journals, then put that knowledge into action by building their own. The results were impressive.

So the class was run a second time under the fearless leadership of professor Emerson, and the results were just as impressive. While I wasn’t around for the entire semester, missing much of the true labor of creative conceptualization (which was handled astutely by Martha Burtis) I found it interesting just how little assistance the three groups needed. They were extremely self-sufficient, and the technical struggles were far less apparent this year than last, providing far more time and energy for the most important parts of the process: the creative, administrative, and marketing facets that compromise any publication.

Two of the three groups used UMW Blogs to create their journals, and they worked beautifully within the constraints of this publishing system (which are very few 🙂 ). The third created their site from scratch, which afforded them a tremendous amount of control over the visual aesthetic and layout (those might be the few constraints).

Below is a quick rundown of the three journals in the order they presented.

EcollectiveECOllective : This journal’s mission statement is really sharp and imaginative framing itself as a very strongly themed publication dealing with the relationship between the artist and his or her environment. During their presentation i was really impressed on how they worked within the limitations of the UMW Blogs publishing platform (that was all Martha!), and also used a whole series of loosely joined tools to work through the submission, selection, revision, and publication process.

Check out how smart the following process is: Artists submitted their work through an online submission form created with Dagon Design Form Mailer which then went to the journal GMail account. From there, the work (if text) was immediately converted to a Google Doc which was shared with all the editors. And the reviews were then listed in a collabortive Google Spreadsheet to record all of the journal editors reaction to the piece, and if it was accepted they would send the artist an email inviting them onto Google Docs to take care of any needed revisions. A pretty sophisticated workflow handled seamlessly be freely available online tools.

Much of the same holds true of the marketing aspect of this journal. They used both MySpace and Facebook (having much greater success with MySpace interestingly enough) to spread the word, creating page for their journal on both of these social networks. More than that, they got some unbelievable submissions from a wide range of international artists, take a look for yourself here.

The ZephyranthesThe Zephyranthes (zef-uh-ran-theez): I borrow their phonetic spelling here because I would kid them every chance I got about how easy this journal title is to pronounce for a my lazy NY tongue. The Zephyranthes journal was very much about thinking through the future of American voices and featuring contemporary art on the digital frontier. As they say in their mission statement:

The journal is published exclusively online in order to provide the creative minds of a changing world the freedom and versatility to express within the bounds of their imaginations, unhindered by many limitations of the printed page.

In fact, they were extremely interested in framing the experience of what it takes to publish in this new medium, and have a featured interview with UMW’s own science fiction writer Warren Rochelle. One of the things that amazed me about the Zephyranthes group was their portean ability to shape shift their journal at th last minute when they realized that they were using the same theme as ECOllective. Within two days time the site visual and presentational aesthetic was dramatically altered and to great effect. The navigation and presentation of the works in this journal are exemplary, and it was fun to watch them re-imagine themselves almost instantaneously, which in many ways is in keeping with their mission. Check it out here.

Spindle JournalSpindle: Last, but not least, there’s Spindle, what I like to think of as a beautiful abstraction. This journal pushed the aesthetic boundaries far beyond the meager boundaries of WordPress. The site was designed entirely from scratch, and it provides an extremely powerful, consistent aesthetic which moves the user through the site experience seamlessly. I particularly like the way this group created a space where artists, genres, biographies, and artworks became readily available within one click. It was quite nicely designed.

The site has a far more abstracted and loosely coupled theme than the other two: “This journal’s purpose is to evoke a dream-like state of creation. Spindle weaves together seemingly unconnected works of art and literature, constructing a new and inspiring way of approaching artistic content.”

The “Explore” feature of the site in many ways embodies the mission statement by brining together disparate works in a random, yet suggestive, fashion. This journal also did an excellent job focusing on less traditional media in literary/artistic journals such as crafts and video, featuring local creative talent from artists at the Liberty Town Arts Workshop. A true treat, there are innumerable gems in this journal.

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6 Responses to Literary Journals Class, the sequel

  1. Sue F. says:

    This is great stuff. Thanks for providing an overview of the multiple dimensions of the projects – and cheers to its designers!

    One quick note: the link for Spindle is broken (curse of the type-o).

  2. Reverend says:

    Thanks Sue,

    The typo is fixed, well at least one of the millions on this terrible blog is 🙂

    It was pretty cool to see just how excited each of the groups were about the work. I never heard any of them remark on how much work they had to do (which was a ton) because they were so invested in their projects. Real school?

  3. Brian says:

    Mind-blowing. Inspirational. I’m especially impressed how the whole process of running a journal was re-imagined to accommodate the strengths of new media.

    Can we get the Spindle designers to do a seminar on how they did that?

  4. Reverend says:


    I believe Serena Epstein was behind a lot of the conception of both the Spindle site and design. She’s quite good, and we a re lucky enough to have her joining the DTLT fold this coming year. We just have to ween her off Dreamweaver, and get her interested in designing WordPress themes 🙂

  5. Brian says:

    I’ve met Serena, and seen her work. It all makes sense.

  6. Pingback: Literary Journals class at UMW | bavatuesdays

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