Last month, I stood in front of a creative writing class at the co-op high school. To a surprisingly rapt audience, I and three other literary editors of the Yale Undergraduate Magazine elaborated on our submissions process. At Y.U.M., we review submissions of fiction, poetry and prose, then edit them collaboratively with the author before publication.
The teacher interrupted. “And is this usual?” she asked.
The answer is simply “No, this is not the usual.” As we explained to the students, most publications do not have the time or staff to go through an editorial process that can sometimes vastly reshape a work, which ends up being a learning experience for both editors and writers.
And yet, this dedicated attention is exactly what student writers need, whether they are in high school or college. Unlike seasoned authors who are secure in their voices and already adept at their craft, many undergraduates are trying their hands for the first time at writing creative prose and poetry. Even for those who have been writing for years, a college campus should offer an open and accessible opportunities for growth. While it may seem like the English department’s creative courses are the primary provider of this, they are notoriously competitive, given the small numbers admitted, and therefore cannot accommodate everyone.
In looking for opportunities outside the classroom, the big-name publications come to mind first, and it’s there that many Yalies stop their search. But, in doing so, they ignore the breadth of extracurricular writing opportunities on campus, many of which are offered by newer organizations.
Traditionally, the Yale Literary Magazine (the Lit) has served as the premier outlet for extracurricular student writing. Jessica Marsden reflected this reputation when she called the Lit “the only game in town” for publishing creative writing on campus (“Catcher in the Writing Class,” 11/2). Though the Lit is certainly a leading forum for students’ creative work, it is also a limited forum. After all, the Lit is published only biannually, and as its Web site says, “Each semester the number of submissions greatly exceeds what the magazine can accommodate.”
Because the Lit is so exclusive, focusing on it at the expense of newer writing organizations and publications on campus hurts the potential of Yale’s creative culture. Operated more like a traditional publication where pieces are rarely workshopped, the Lit does not offer developing writers a great learning opportunity. The many other, less-established publications, which ably provide invaluable workshop-style feedback, are swept by the wayside in favor of the Lit.
There are, in fact, many places to publish imaginative writing at Yale in publications. The Misfit, for example, publishes “intelligent but accessible reading material,” which includes creative nonfiction. The Yale Record, the “oldest college humor magazine,” includes comic short fiction. Airships, a recently founded magazine, publishes science fiction and fantasy. And several residential colleges have their own literary magazines.
Many of these publications are able to give new writers direct attention that more-established publications cannot. They frequently have a greater editor-to-writer ratio, and dedicate more of their time to the editorial process.
Y.U.M.’s weekly editorial meetings, for instance, involve a panel of literary editors who read the pieces and subsequently offer constructive comments on the ways in which the pieces can be improved. Junior editors gain insight into the demands of editing, and writers get feedback that allows them to revise their work and develop the piece more precisely.
Younger writing-oriented organizations are also able to be more responsive in the types of opportunities they offer, often expanding beyond simply creating a magazine. Crotonia, a new undergraduate literary society that takes its name from the first of its kind at Yale, meets weekly to allow students to read their work aloud. Not only does Crotonia serve as a creative forum to get feedback from other students, but it encourages writers to work on projects independently. Crotonia also brings in guests to talk about topics of interest to young writers, such as J.D. McClatchy, the editor of the Yale Review, and hosts readings in public spaces like Labyrinth.
Y.U.M., too, hosts guests that speak on writing-related topics, including Gavriel Kay, a Canadian fantasy writer. The organization is planning to host Sam Tanenhaus, the editor of The New York Times Book Review, and author R.L. Stine in the new future.
To get the most out of Yale’s vibrant creative culture, student writers should focus on taking advantage of the opportunities offered by Yale’s newer publications. While more-established magazines may have more cache, it is the younger ones that can best help students grow as writers. In looking beyond the “usual,” student writers looking to improve their craft will likely find exactly what they need.
Alena Gribskov is a junior in Davenport College. She is a literary editor of Y.U.M.