A small circle of University of Mary Washington students scrutinized the printed sheets of poetry resting on their laps. Lost in their lively deliberation the amateur literary critics seemed oblivious to the bitter cold outside the Combs Hall window.
“I really want to like this poem,” said senior Abbey Doherty. “I think I love what it’s pursuing.”
“I just love the way the poet used the pomegranate,” fellow student Greg Chandler said from across the circle. “I can see this.”
“This isn’t the typical divorce poem,” Visiting Assistant Professor of English Elizabeth Wade explained to the group after further discussion. “OK, let’s vote.”
The group readied for the ballot—five thumbs up; one down—signaling acceptance in the Rappahannock Review, a new online literary journal created and published by UMW students.
With 138 submissions just in the month of February, the Rappahannock Review is a burgeoning publication with plans to publish at least two issues a year and includes poetry, fiction and nonfiction submitted by writers from across the world. Currently, students in two semester-long English classes serve as editors, designers and publishers of the journal.
“These are real writers sending in work,” said senior Tonto Duncan, an editor in chief of the journal. “There are writers constantly writing in the world right now, as we’re speaking, and they’re really trying to make a sort of literary life for themselves. It’s a really cool idea.”
A requirement for English majors with a concentration in creative writing, the class gives upper-level students a taste of real-world careers.
“I want to give students responsibility for creating something that lives out in the world and give them work that has real-world consequences,” said Wade, who took over the class in 2013 and developed the concept of an ongoing web-based journal.
Although literary journals have long been a feature of the English department, the Rappahannock Review consolidated the work of students into one publication that reaches a much wider audience.
Before the semester begins, Wade puts out a call for submissions for the journal. At the beginning of the semester students write editorial statements describing how they would make publishing decisions. As a class, the students then vote for various positions, including editor in chief and genre editor. Finally, the class breaks into working groups and the reading begins.
“It’s different from anything else [at UMW] in that it kind of gives you field experience in what you’re going to be doing with your creative writing degree,” said Tess McClellan, a senior English major and a fiction editor for the journal. “We’re learning how to work with other authors and how the journal format in general works.”
Named for the river that runs through Fredericksburg, the journal reflects a fluid and ever-changing project. This semester, students decided to put out an appetite issue in addition to a general issue of the journal. The appetite issue will focus on stories, essays and poems associated with various kinds of hunger.
Moira McAvoy, editor in chief for the appetite issue, has experienced her own set of triumphs and challenges that come along with publishing a journal with such a specific topic. She’s found that solicitations are an important aspect of publishing.
“I don’t feel like I’m doing homework. I’m doing life work. And at the end we produce a living, breathing tangible journal that is getting notoriety,” said the junior English and linguistics major.
As the semester progresses, the students will continue to read and debate which pieces are accepted into their journal. They will contact authors for biographical information and they will finish the semester with two issues of the literary journal.
“Writing is very personal,” said McAvoy. “To be welcomed into that realm is both humbling and exhilarating.”