Portal del Sol

Author Salon, Fiction, Novels, Editors, Books & More

The First Year: Beecher’s

In The First Year, four editors of magazines in their first year of publication write about what they are doing and why, and the challenges and triumphs they encounter along the way. This month, we asked the editors to introduce to their publications, the people involved, and to speak to why they decided to start a literary journal.

Beecher’s Beginning

Iris Moulton, Assistant Poetry Editor, Beecher’s

Henry Ward Beecher, a prominent abolitionist and social reformer, began shipping Sharps rifles to arm the growing anti-slavery movement in crates labeled Bibles. He believed this was a battle to be fought with passion, and viewed the guns in these crates as imbued with moral power. Soon abolitionists dubbed these Sharps rifles Beecher’s Bibles.

History is important to Lawrence, Kansas. The first literary magazine at the University of Kansas, Cottonwood, was established in 1960. It can claim a publishing record of Allen Ginsberg, William Stafford, and Rita Dove. While I was being recruited to the MFA program I was told all about this promising magazine, and the literary scene in Lawrence. Any writer here can tell you where William S. Burroughs drank (The Bourgeois Pig) and where he was photographed walking (behind The Jazzhaus). Ask and we’ll drive you by the boyhood home of Langston Hughes.

The University of Kansas, and Lawrence, are incredibly proud of this literary tradition, and perhaps as a result, they are both somewhat traditional. As interesting as the history of Cottonwood is, as fine an opportunity for any student to act as a reader for a publication, I soon discovered that there were no editorial positions available for students. And that many of my fellow students shared my concern.

On the most vulgar, practical level, students will leave any MFA program with a degree and what they have made of that time. Many of these students will have served as editors of renowned publications, such as Black Warrior Review, Meridian, or Gulf Coast. In fact, a quick scan of a list of MFA programs reveals that many, maybe most, have student-run publications. There’s a chance that all of these students will be going on the same job market. Surely, we figured, editorial experience was more “marketable” than slush reading, or no reading. It was at the very least more fun. In some ways it was precisely because the market is saturated with student publications that we felt KU, and its students, were worthy of participation.

Craving the ethos a university might bring to a new publication, the students were not necessarily interested in breaking from the department in the creation of this magazine. These students, now largely reflective of the current editorial board and staff, found themselves too invested in the community to sever ties in order to gain this editorial experience. In fact, the new goal became to be more inclusive of the community. The University of Kansas English Department, in turn, recognized the need and practicality for the creation of this magazine (if nothing else, it will bring attention to the program here) and offered some funding for our efforts.

Change is hard for everyone. When the onus of creation and behind-the-scenes concerns are placed entirely on the students, some may opt out until it’s fun again. When some young upstarts come marching in demanding websites and PayPal accounts they aren’t always met with smiles and what-can-I-do-to-helps. If I’ve learned one thing from starting a publication from the ground up is that there aren’t a lot of thanks to go around.

The real reason, aside from marketability, publicity or even appreciation, for the creation of Beecher’s, was because there were too many students revving with too many good ideas. It became apparent during my first days at KU that my fellow students were something to admire. They read. They read everything. They were incredibly knowledgeable about the current literary scene(s). They were also fantastic and supportive writers. As praise-worthy as the literary past of Lawrence and KU may be, the true asset is in its present.

At the beginning there were frequent meetings regarding almost everything. An editorial board was elected, many of members of which, myself included, were there from the beginning of the beginning, when we were still in talks with Cottonwood about expanding their policies. We voted on bylaws, we amended them, we voted again. We did our best to structure the editorial board so that outgoing students got a chance at editorship, and students with more time would have the opportunity to practice before taking their turn. We engaged in lengthy debates and diatribes about our favorite books, writers, and magazines, and it was almost unanimous among the students cum Beecher’s staff that, though it kills trees and costs money, we needed a print issue. And we needed that issue to be beautiful. The magazine-as-fetish-object, we would say, fanning ourselves with lesser journals.

And, of course, we saw the potential of an internet presence. Beecher’s seeks to marry the two worlds. Aside from submission guidelines (written collaboratively by the editorial board for the genre in which they are working) and a masthead, we want the beauty of the print magazine to spill over online. A frequent occurrence, or perhaps misconception, is that magazines have an A team and a B team, and the B team goes online while the A is cherished in ink and paper. Beecher’s has decided not to publish anything that isn’t wonderful, whether it’s coming at you through refracted light or bound and held.

Beecher’s seeks to stand apart by way of our appreciation for physical beauty—fine paper, the way an “f” might curl—and our specific, some might say ambitious, aesthetic standards for what we publish. This is a completely student-run publication hoping to stand apart. Our readers will appreciate us for the new and strange voices they find inside; our writers will love us for providing a home for their best, though maybe previously indefinable, work. Now they just need to find us.

Henry Ward Beecher knew one thing for sure: powerful things are best snuck in unsuspecting packages. Beecher’s, armed with a wonderful staff full of exciting ideas, may appear to be just another fledgling university publication, but what it really holds may surprise you.

Iris Ann Moulton was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she studied English Literature and Anthropology at the University. She now lives in Lawrence, Kansas, where she is pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing and works as the Assistant Poetry Editor for Beecher’s. She can be found online at http://www.irismoulton.com/.

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