Unconventional Course: Literary Magazine
By Janezia Ketchel
Carroll University is now offering a new, unconventional course: WRI350: Literary Magazine Publishing. Created by B.J. Best, Assistant Professor of English at Carroll and Taylor Hamann, a senior at Carroll, the course allows students to be a part of the development of a literary magazine, titled Portage. “Portage came about for two reasons,” stated Best. “The first is that we wanted students to be able to participate in the larger literary community while still under the guidance of a class. The second reason is that a well-respected regional magazine, Verse Wisconsin, was shutting down. In some ways, we’re continuing on the good work begun by Verse Wisconsin. We borrowed much of our mission statement from them, for example. We also borrowed their focus: Portage focuses on arts and culture in the Upper Midwest.” Hamann agreed, adding, “Portage began as a vision to bring the professional literary publishing world to Carroll and immerse students in it. It is also a push to expand the literary arts in the Midwest.”
The idea for the course came about when Best and Hamann collaborated together last summer through a Pioneer Scholars project. The project allowed them to “lay the foundations for the journal,” as Hamann stated. “We first had to establish where we wanted the journal to ‘fit’ within the literary community. We had to essentially find our niche and we chose to focus specifically on the upper Midwest. Then, we worked together to write the mission statement and all the web copy.” As the co-editor and co-founder of the magazine, Hamann designed the website the course would utilize to showcase the magazine. She also aided in promoting Facebook and Twitter pages for Portage.
In relation to the new Professional Writing major, the course grants students the chance to envision what they want to do with their major after graduating Carroll. However, this unconventional course is not only geared to Writing majors or students with similar career interests. It is available for all students. “Publishing a literary journal allows students in many different disciplines to gain valuable experience,” said Hamann. “There is a need for genre editors, copy editors, designers, and a communications/marketing team. I hope that students will be able to build their résumés and develop skill sets specific to their interests and potential career paths.”
The main goal of the course is “to give students the opportunity to take skills they’ve learned in their classes, such as evaluating good writing, or editing, or graphic design, and apply them in a real-world setting,” said Best. “As the instructor, it’s my job to make sure the magazine gets completed in an efficient way. However, the course is flexible and can be adapted to students’ talents and interests. For example, this semester we are also publishing a book of poems, as we have several Book Arts majors in the class. The course is student-directed, and in some ways I want students to learn whatever they, personally, want to learn.”
As the semester has progressed, so has the literary magazine. After screening through works of nonfiction, fiction, poetry, art and photography, Portage is now in its final stage of accepting submissions and publishing them online. The poetry submissions for the printed book are also in their final stages for the book project. “So far, we’ve been making great progress,” said Best. “We have a very talented and energetic team of students in the course. I’m excited to see the final product of the magazine and the book we’re publishing. I’m hopeful that Portage will become more and more known in the regional literary and arts communities as we continue to publish good work and create appealing final products.”
“Regarding the journal,” said Hamann, “I would like to see Portage flourish and become a respected journal within the literary community. It can be tough to start a journal since thousands already exist, but my goal is for Portage to become relatively well-known within Midwestern literary circles. I would like to see it grow and eventually become a journal to which new, emerging, and established writers and artists want to submit their work.”
In WRI350, students of all different majors, interests, and future goals have come together because of one common pursuit: a love of writing. In the end, the students are a part of something much bigger than just a class; they are building onto a literary entity that has excellent potential to become a well-known publisher for future writers and artists.