“Oh my god, this weird car just drove by…Did you see it?…It’s like a go-kart or something.”
I squint down the street and make out unusual tail-lights.
“See, there’s a story,” she says excitedly before jumping right back into our conversation about (wouldn’t you know it) stories. She’s full of them, a product of her environment. Editor-in-chief of a literary magazine, Wilkes University MFA grad, journalist, and avid reader, Donna is surrounded by, obsessed with, and ever-curious for stories.
“This is one of the reasons I’ve always been drawn to non-fiction,” she tells me outside of Lancaster’s Mean Cup cafe, “I wanted to tell these stories I was finding.” She discovered this interest as an undergrad during her first round at Wilkes, as a radio/television major. Piecing together the script for the campus TV news station intrigued her, but she found her true groove when she started working for the school newspaper. “I kind of just loved telling stories, so I switched gears,” she says. However, life called, and as a sophomore she made the decision to leave school to take a full time job working in radio.
But the itch didn’t go away. She began writing for the local weekly newspaper, The Weekender. At first she was writing album reviews and shorter pieces, but when she noticed what she refers to as “the breath-mint craze” spreading across America, she pitched a story. “You know, it had always been just Altoids, Lifesavers, Certs. But then everyone started coming out with these new breath mints, so I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be interesting to do a taste test?'” The paper dug the idea and told her to pursue it. The story ended up on the front page: “Fresh Breath Industry: Making a Mint”
“I loved headlines, especially play-on-words. So, I ended up writing for them for almost ten years. I got so much out of doing the feature stories…I would drive around, see things, and think ‘I want to know about that.'”
During those years she also worked for the daily paper as a “stringer,” covering board meetings, township meetings, and other correspondence. This was all in her spare time, while she was working in a college admissions office. She had a day job and a night job, the latter being a labor of love. She says of being a correspondent for the paper, “It taught me to turn a around a story quickly. I’d get home from these meetings at 9 or 10 at night and I’d have to have the story filed before the next morning.” She loved this work for how it forced her to economize words and keep them to a limit, something she says she still struggles with.
Stories being everything, Donna was eager to tell her own. In 2007, she began working towards her MFA in creative non-fiction at Wilkes University. She speaks highly of her experiences there, especially regarding the people she met and bonded with. “Many of us still get together twice a year for writing retreats…Six of us have matching tattoos.” she says. Of her MFA experience, she went on to add, “It was important. It helped me grow the thick skin I need to survive in the literary landscape today.”
But that wasn’t all she got out of it. During one of the program’s summer sessions, in a class on publishing, her professors Phil Brady and Chris Busa tasked the class with coming up with their own ideas for literary magazines. That day, Donna imagined a creative non-fiction magazine called Hippocampus. She loved the name so much that she went home that night and bought the domain name. It was just that good.
Donna moved to Lancaster County in 2010, when she took a job in admissions at Elizabethtown College. Soon after, in the spring of 2011, the domain name she had sat on for two years was put to use. Hippocampusmagazine.com is now home to hundreds of published memoirs, flash non-fiction stories, and essays. She has a diverse, qualified volunteer staff (full disclosure, after our interview I became a fiction reader) who help to put out the magazine’s monthly issue online. Hippocampus Magazine aims not only to publish work, but to connect with audience and community, as well as educate writers. The website features interviews, reviews, and craft essays alongside abundant and impressive creative non-fiction content.
It’s a big project that doesn’t show any signs of slowing. In 2015 Donna plans to publish the inaugural print issue for Hippocampus, a collection of the site’s best work to date. Not only that, but Donna and her team have launched a weekend-long, creative non-fiction writing conference (fittingly titled HippoCamp) that will take place at the end of the summer. Although the panels, break-out sessions, and keynote speakers have yet to be announced, Donna is confident this event is going to bring a lot of writers to Lancaster next August. She says, “I don’t want it to be the same old writing conference; the goal of Hippocampus is to entertain, educate, and engage and that is what we’re focusing on. I want it to be a learning experience throughout the weekend.”
Ambitious? Yes, and committed. Add busy. Donna’s love for stories, words, and writers forces her to be ever-doing, ever-reaching, and ever-writing. She envisions future projects for herself focused on prescriptive or literary journalism, writing that has the creative freedom to flesh out true stories. “I’ve been trying to get better at time-management, so I can do more of the things I want to do” she tells me. Besides Hippocampus and her own creative writing, she keeps a professional website and an active blog about the work-life balance called All The Sh*t Done. Needless to say, Donna Talarico consistently gets sh*t done and we love it.
Dogstar Books, located on West Lemon Street in Lancaster, is one of my favorite places to hear poetry. It actually may be one of my favorite places on earth. On July 30th Dogstar hosted the release of arguably the best local, independent poetry journal around, the Fledgling Rag. And, there is no one you can trust more than Le Hinton, editor of the journal, to bring together poets that are as deft, fierce, and humbly dedicated to craft as are found in its pages. The journal has been put out by Iris G. Press since 2006 and has featured the work of some of the finest local and regional poets, each of them sought out personally by Hinton’s editorial vision.
This is our scene: On Dogstar’s premises, if you can actually make it past each enticing shelf of books, there is an intimate gallery in the adjacent room, walls laden with local art, the front of it visibly open to the street through a generous bay window. The gallery has several rows of mismatched folding chairs. There is the hum of poets and listeners gathering. By 7 o’clock, Hinton takes to the lectern to set the stage for the evening, and in his soft, persistent voice, reveals his passion for the poetry he has come to find all around him. Many of the people he’s published come from in the Triangle’s geographic focus, the York, Harrisburg, and Lancaster areas. Others hail from the greater Mid-Atlantic region, from Baltimore, to Pittsburgh, to Washington DC, among other places in Maryland and New Jersey.
In many ways, this gathering is not just about this issue’s release, but a way to celebrate the poets who have appeared throughout the journal’s near decade existence. Hinton’s standards for poetic excellence includes dedication to craft, humility, high talent, and perhaps most emphatically, that the poet be “a good person.” (Le joked openly, but seriously, a few times throughout the night, that he prefers working with good people: “Why would I work with someone I don’t like?”) Not only is Hinton a phenomenal poet (his poem “No Doubt About It (I Gotta Get Another Hat)” will appear in Best American Poetry 2014), but he devotes much of his time and energy discovering, reading, and promoting other poets.
Over the course of an entrancing hour and a half, the evening progressed through short 5-10 minute readings from Carol Clark Williams, Jeff Rath, Patricia Hanahoe-Dosch, Brian Fanelli, Heather Thomas, and Joseph Ross after glowing introductions from Hinton. Williams and Rath read as contributors to past issues of the journal and Hanahoe-Dosch, Fanelli, Thomas, and Ross, as contributors to issue 13.
When I hear the word “quaint,” I think—small town, ton of store fronts, traffic circle, outdoor restaurants, history, families, dogs. I think—Gettysburg. And when I think Gettysburg, I don’t always think of poetry. But at the Ragged Edge Coffee House, poetry readings have been happening just about every first Friday since 2005.
The Ragged Edge is not just a coffee shop, but a true coffee house. There are three dining areas, a beautiful back garden, an art gallery, and an upstairs stage complete with comfy chairs and couches—perfect for monthly poetry readings.
The team that currently runs the Ragged Edge reading series, Gary Ciocco, Katy Giebenhain, and Marty Malone, decided to take July and August off, but they’re back on the 5th of September with featured poet Dan Vera. A few months ago Tyler and I saw Vera feature at the Lancaster Poetry Exchange, where he proved himself to be personable and touching, performing poems filled with the curiosities of growing up in a bilingual household.
Like any good reading, the Ragged Edge series is regular, dependable, and thrives with newcomers. The readings are always on a Friday and always start at 7. We dropped by back in June to check things out, read our work during the open mic, and felt incredibly welcome—like we’d been regular attendees for years.
We caught up with the three poets working to keep the series alive in Gettysburg to ask a few quick questions:
- Why do you do what you do?
- Why is community important?
- What benefits do regular, free, open readings have for a community of writers?
“It is a chance to bring poets to the community to share their work here and, in turn, to have the poets experience Ragged Edge hospitality and to know that the spoken word is alive in Gettysburg. We also like that it a free, public event and that it happens downtown on First Friday as part of other arts offerings.”
“I’d say that we all believe (I think) that poetry is something that needs to be heard as well as seen. Good poems work on the ear not just the eye, and poets need the opportunity to hear how their work sounds. It is important to provide a venue for poets to share their work with an interested public and communities are enriched by having these kinds of programs where the spoken word can be enjoyed in an informal, friendly, and encouraging environment. More and more people are writing and reading poetry and it is valuable for all of us to get to meet and enjoy each other’s work.”
“I love poetry and loved the informal setting of the Ragged Edge, coupled with the great poetry I usually heard there as a regular from 2005 to 2013. So I jumped at the chance to be a part of hosting it last year. The events have always been eclectic, open, and egalitarian. We are trying to be both local and regional in our scope of features, and want everyone to know that they can express themselves there. We love our place in Gettysburg, and also relish the opportunities, especially as a trio of hosts, to connect with other groups, venues, and poets in PA and beyond.
Dana Larkin Sauers, Hanover’s second Poet Laureate had a few thoughts to share as well, as the series began in 2005 during her tenure:
“The Hanover poet Michael Hoover was already facilitating an impressively attended reading at Reader’s Cafe in Hanover, and I wanted to expand the venues in South Central PA. It was a delightful start as my son, watercolorist Adrian Sauers was the art director at RE. I would run the readings upstairs, and he would exhibit visual arts downstairs. We shared the wine, enthusiasm and other goodies. The venue existed from 2005-2014 non-stop under my direction except for six months of repairs due to the shop’s second fire. I then turned it over to my dear friends and ardent supporters Katie, Gary and Marty. As a life long educator and former PL, my desire and accomplishment was to create a safe space for all people to assemble and share their creative selves. I was always pleased with the diversity of age, experience, education and style that were represented.”
Don’t miss the next Ragged Edge Poetry Reading, featuring Dan Vera, on September 5th from 7-9 PM. The event is free with an open mic from 7-8 PM. Hope to see you there (110 Chambersburg St, Gettysburg, PA 17325)!
Katy Giebenhain is Associate Director of Communications at Gettysburg Seminary. Her MPhil in creative writing is from University of South Wales (Glamorgan). Poems and prose have appeared in The London Magazine, Tokens for the Foundlings, Bordercrossing Berlin, Saint Katherine Review, Appalachian Journal, Water ̃Stone Review, Little Patuxent Review, Bellevue Literary Review and elsewhere. She lives in Gettysburg.
Gary Ciocco teaches philosophy and political science at Gettysburg College, HACC and other colleges. He has had poems published in several journals, including Seminary Ridge Review, Shadowtrain, National Catholic Reporter and Backbone Mountain Review. He lives with his family in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and regularly travels near and far to hear and read the spoken word.
Martin Malone teaches at Mount Saint Mary’s University. His poems have appeared in Dream International Quarterly, Lighted Corners, The Monocacy Valley Review, Scribble and The Seminary Ridge Review. He lives in Gettysburg, PA. with his wife Jane.
If there were ever a person prepared to create and head a literary magazine, it’s Travis Kurowski. It was inevitable. In his undergrad days at Southern Oregon University he was working on the West Wind Review. Then came an internship at Tin House. Next: Southern Mississippi University to study fiction. In 2007 he started a web review of literary magazines, Luna Park Review. His doctorate degree in literary publishing led to his culminating book Paper Dreams, a study of the history of literary magazines.
When York College hired him in 2009 to teach creative writing and publishing, it was also with the agenda that this individual might build a national magazine. In our recent interview, Kurowski says, “One of the reasons I came to York was that I was told I was going to have a lot of freedom to pursue a literary magazine.”
And in 2013, with the help of faculty think-alike Vito Grippi, student powerhouse Ashli Mackenzie, a slew of big-name contributors (and a grant), he did. It’s called Story Magazine, and it is exactly what Travis and Vito set out to make: a print publication that’s worth each of the eight-dollars it costs to purchase.
Story is a national magazine, meaning it is not the literary journal of the York campus (that would be The York Review, which Travis, Vito, and Ashli have all worked on over the past few years) but rather a major print publication with distribution throughout the US.
Story, as the name of a literary magazine, may sound familiar. I won’t launch into the whole history (for that check Travis’ book, Paper Dreams), but in a nutshell: it’s been a magazine twice, first between 1931-1967, and again from 1990-1999. Copyright on the name “Story” recently ran out, becoming available for purchase. Travis was a reader and fan of the magazine in the 90’s, discovering now heavyweight writers like Junot Diaz. He and Vito thought it was a title that deserved to be used. After all, there’s Poetry, Creative Non-Fiction, and even Narrative, but no Story. Until now.
The editors realized early on that there isn’t a need for another short fiction magazine (there are thousands in print and online). They decided to broaden, and at the same time sharpen, their focus. Travis says, “There isn’t a print magazine that’s just about the narrative arts—Poetry magazine is about the poetic arts—but there’s nothing out there about narrative.” So Story‘s goal is to be diverse in genre, form, school of thought, gender, race, and ethnicity. It wants to be a well-curated collage of anything narrative.
Travis and Vito also felt the pressure to ask and answer the question What justifies printing another journal? Vito says, “We spent a lot of time thinking about the design…we want to represent to our students not what publishing looked like 5-10 years ago. We wanted to get students thinking innovatively about print publishing. We think it’s something to be proud about.” They found that a common denominator between some of their favorite magazines and literary journals was that they were, in themselves, art objects. Travis calls the publishing of beautiful print material an “event.” This means the thing has to look nice, feel right, and exude a very intentional aesthetic. Kudos to Story, as it does all of this in a way that feels effortless.
Story‘s design is innovative—a culmination of many influences. It utilizes dos-a-dos binding, the way old pulp magazines and comic books were printed. It works like this: Issue 1A starts in the front and Issue 1B is flipped upside down and begins in the back, so the two halves end in the middle. The reader must interact with the object by turning the magazine over to begin the second half of the issue. This reader-action, although simple, is something different. The magazine is also big, not-too-thick, and attractively designed.
The editors also knew that they had to not only make something worth owning and worthy of printing on paper, but also worth the name it borrows its tradition from. “At AWP we had so many people who looked at it and we’re like “Ah! It’s back’… we knew that using that name was a lot of pressure to do something awesome,” says Vito. Travis adds, “We couldn’t insult the tradition of that name by putting out a mediocre magazine. We needed to respect the tradition…”
Achieving that respect and awesomeness involved soliciting all of the submissions for the first issue, something the editors don’t plan to do again. They wanted to set a precedent not only for variety but for the quality of writing they wanted. Therefore, issue 1 includes pieces by Andrew Malan Milward, Tao Lin, K. Silem Mohammed, Mary Miller, David Shields, Frederick and Donald Barthelme, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s a star line-up. Magazine content from this point forward is being garnered through open submissions, and the editors say the submissions so far have been high-quality.
Diversity breakdown of Issue 1a/1b
Male writers: 19
Female writers: 9
Short stories: 11
Creative non-fiction/Essays: 9
Flash fiction: 3
Visual art/Comic: 2
Other: 1 (found object)
When we talked about submissions, the subject of diversity came up again. Readers will likely find Story already highly diverse but Travis and Vito strive for more. “Issue 1 didn’t end up being as diverse disciplinarily,” admits Travis, “Hopefully issue 9 will have like 72 different disciplinary points and writers from all over the world.” The two leaders of the magazine are the first to admit that they are a bit limited in the diversity of their own masthead. Travis says, “It’s two white dudes and a magazine… so we need to keep these questions on our plate at all times… is this diverse enough, is it gender diverse enough, culturally diverse enough, because if not, why are we doing a a publication about the current diversity of storytelling?”
To that, he adds, “We want to break through genre limitations as well.” Story has theme-based issues—the first being superheroes—with the forthcoming issue based on monsters. The introduction to 1B is by genre-champion Ryan Britt, in which he talks about the need for genre-based stories (horror, sci-fi, crime, action, etc.) to be seen with equal respect and value as literary fiction. Britt writes:
“So if your imagination needs some help on how the hybrid of monsters of literature and genre fiction will function in a brave tomorrow, then I hope these few beautiful, deranged, wonderfully mutated stories can give you a terrifying, hilarious, and glittering little glimpse of that bold and genre-confused future. And with a little luck, maybe make you forget what a genre is in the first place.”
Other areas Travis and Vito want to improve upon with Story is its recognition and connection to local community. They went to some notable writing conferences this year to show the issue and get the name out there—not just the name of the magazine but “York.” Travis says, “We had to load our table with York peppermint patties. People were like where are you guys from again?” The duo wants to put York on the literary map. As Travis put it, “We’re excited that Story is like this hub for a bunch of different narratives. And then York, Harrisburg, Lancaster is this hub, regionally…We’re hoping the magazine can help do that, help show what’s already here.”
With that said, the editors told us they haven’t really had time to reach out to the local community yet. This made sense to me, as someone who discovered Story on Twitter and couldn’t believe they were doing this in my home county, and I hadn’t heard about it before. The reason is because Story received their funding grant last summer very suddenly. They weren’t expecting the grant to actually come through, and when it did, it put them in sort of a rush. Travis says, “We weren’t ready for a first issue yet,” and Vito adds, “We felt a very urgent obligation to make something happen, because all of the sudden we had the money to do it.” So the process of putting together this issue, which was released in spring 2014, was a hectic one—one that put all of their focus and energy on submissions, design, marketing, and publishing. This left little for community events, local promotion and other approaches that would help to situate the magazine into its own environment. However, community outreach and connections are now becoming more of a priority. For example, they are bringing Tao Lin to speak this fall for a free, public reading at York College.
The first issue of Story is impressive; the story of Story is interesting. In talking to Travis and Vito about the magazine and their future ambitions for it, enthusiasm, ideas, and positive energy abound. It stirred in us a looking-forwardness, for not only the magazine itself, but for York College, York city, and really, the South Central PA literary community as a whole. There’s that feeling you get when you read the first few pages of a book, and you can tell that what is to come is going to be worth your time, attention, and excitement—how you just want to keep reading.
Three long months ago, when the BIIL series began, we set some criteria for what kinds of things we might review. The series would highlight things that fell into at least one of the following categories:
1) something unique/weird/awesome (to us),
2) something local, or
3) something un-literary (traditionally speaking) that we wanted to promote/support.
The list of items we’ve covered so far is quite disparate, the common denominator being hype-worthiness. We’ve reviewed a nearby rockscramble (categories 1 & 2), the menu of a regional whiskey bar (2ish and 3), the art-in-the-mail project by Hunter (1 and 3) and the stupidest app ever invented (just 1).
This marks the 8th post in the series, and it’s the first since that inaugural review (of the album booklet of a local compilation) that rings all three bells. It’s a handmade zine by local biker, skater, and graphic designer, Zach Kolodziejski.
PUTT Zine, Issue 3
5×7″ paper, sewn, black & white
$15.00 from Graphic Discharge
PUTT is three niches (motorcycles, skateboarding, and punk music) smashed together. It happens that many people who are interested in one of those sub-cultures find themselves at least aware of, if not a part of, the other two as well. So this is the perfect zine for a relatively small, absolutely passionate group of people.
Luckily for those of us who don’t covet secret skate spots, ride 50cc mopeds across the country, or spin hardcore-punk 7″s on our record players, this zine is still 100% worth checking out. And here’s why:
1. This is the most visually appealing DIY magazine I’ve seen. Kolodziejski is a PCAD graduate and the entrepreneur behind the zine’s distributor, Graphic Discharge. Needless to say, GD doesn’t put anything out that isn’t graphically kickass. Within these few pages, the photographs alone are enough to make it worth reading, if not owning, collecting, and showing off to friends. The design is full-bleed on every page. It has cohesion, neatness, and order, all while possessing an absolutely punk aesthetic.
2. The writing is concise and strongly voiced. Issue 3 is called “Putt Gets Cabin Fever,” which dates it at around the winter/early spring of 2014. The intro to the zine is three sentences long and it expresses the feeling of the weather forcing you away from the thing you love. For anyone in the South Central PA region this winter, this feeling was universal. The first article, “Pinball Run”, is more of a photo essay about the moped rally (which stretches from from Maine to Key West) than an article, but the text serves an informational as well as a tonal purpose. He endearingly (and alliteratively) calls the riders, “A slew of psychotic pedal-cyclists” who “saddle[ed] up on two stroke steeds [and] swarmed 1800 miles of open road…spanning the entire East Coast somewhere around 40 mph.”
When it comes to words, economy is key; the pictures do the talking.
3. The record reviews are critical, opinionated, and fun to read. They are indicative of the attitude of the entire zine, which is one of freedom, one that declares responsibility to only itself and its editor. When Dave Preno writes these reviews, there is no need to disclaim, “the thoughts/ideas of this publication are solely the opinion of…”. He just says what he thinks. This is the benefit (for the editor, and for the reader) of making something for a very specific audience. An excerpt from one of Preno’s micro-reviews: “The short version of this review is that this band is shit. If you see this record in the store, take the time to at least bend one of the corners so that it depreciates the value for whatever asshole buys it.” Don’t be put off by the negativity, most of the reviews are glowing. All are entertaining. Plus, you might just find a record you like.
4. As a whole, the zine finds this strange balance between uniformity and variety, order and disorder, eclectic and narrow, and it means that you never know what to expect when you turn the page. It means: an enjoyable reading experience. This issue ends with a photo strip (with captions) of an elderly man explaining how to turn a cargo van into a cow-sized oven. An oven that cooks a cow whole. It’s weird. It was unexpected. Of course, what holds all of the different sections of this booklet together (besides the hand-sewn binding) is Kolodziejski’s flawless design.
5. Each issue comes with a pull out illustration. Issue 3’s was done by Sam Turner. It’s a laser cut wood block print, printed on prescia paper, one of only fifty. If this piece isn’t enough to convince you that PUTT Zine is not just literature, not just (sub)culture, not just graphically sound, but hands-down, capital A-Art, then I don’t know WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU.
I’m going to collect these… if I can. Each new issue is released when the previous one sells out. There are still some copies of #3 left over at Graphic Discharge. Check out an issue of PUTT and let us know what you thought. Shout it out in the comments… IS IT LIT?!
Visual Interviews are where we send a writer a disposable camera and a list of ideas to photograph along with a few short questions. Once the camera is mailed back, we develop the photos and arrange them collage style to give you a unique glimpse into the life of the writer we’ve selected. Check out past Visual Interviews and stay tuned because we have Lindsay Hunter, Adam Robinson, Josh Raab, and Wendy C. Ortiz coming up over the next couple of months!
Megan Milks is a fiction writer and cultural critic. Her second chapbook Twins was released by Birds of Lace in 2012, and her first collection of short fiction, Kill Marguerite and Other Stories, was published by Emergency Press in March 2014. Her stories have been included in three anthologies of innovative writing, as well as many journals; two have been adapted for performance. She is a contributing editor at Entropy.org and Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Beloit College, where she teaches creative writing, composition, new media writing, and journalism.
Interview curated by Erin Dorney and Tyler Barton. Photographs and text by Megan Milks.
Almost a year ago I learned about the existence of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. VIDA’s mission is to “…explore critical and cultural perceptions of writing by women through meaningful conversation and the exchange of ideas among existing and emerging literary communities.” One of the primary ways VIDA carries out this mission is by conducting annual counts of the gender disparity in publishing for a select group of reputable literary journals. By calculating and tracking the number of men and women being published on a year-to-year basis for journals like The New Yorker, Tin House, Paris Review, Kenyon Review, N +1 and more, VIDA provides tangible data proving that a gender gap exists in the world of publishing. You can see all of the data (2009-2013) and methodologies in the count section of the VIDA website.
For 2014 I will be interning with VIDA to help with the count. I’m excited to learn more about how it all works and contribute to this worthy endeavor. As a female writer, it’s important for me to raise awareness about these types of issues, as I am already encountering them. As co-founder and editor of The Triangle, I also have to think about my role as a publisher. So I did a bit of digging and here is what I discovered.
As of August 3, 2014, The Triangle has published the following:
- 18 Interviews (11 women featured; 7 men featured)
- 7 Visual Interviews (5 men featured; 2 women featured)
Of the 60 posts we have published, 22 have been written by women, 37 have been written by men, and 1 was written by a woman but published with a male byline/account. These numbers might not seem that bad, but this is definitely something I’m going to be keeping an eye on. I want to make sure that we are part of the solution, not part of the problem. Right now we have at least two female writers shooting disposable cameras for our visual interview series, which will help. I’ll be sure to check in at this time next year to let you know how we’re doing with our count.
Did you know about VIDA or the gender disparity in publishing? Let me know in the comments if you have any experience with this!