Portal del Sol

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The First Year: Beecher’s

In The First Year, 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.

A Year’s Worth of Talking it Out

In Beecher’s first year as a university-based magazine, we faced many challenges: money, time, not enough content, not enough exceptional content, etc. But the challenge behind all of these things was channeling all our ideas into one cohesive creation. Trying to balance all the lines of communication landed us in one of our first meetings voting to vote, on whether or not we should vote, to re-vote a vote, which had already been voted on. Starting from the ground up left us wanting to make sure everyone was included, everyone was on the email list, everyone was at every meeting, everyone got a vote. It also meant we had to decide who fell under the umbrella of “everyone,” to what extent we needed to follow Robert’s Rules of Order, and at the end of all these questions of communication, would there be a compelling magazine that reflected all of the effort we put in?

As a first year student in the University of Kansas’ MFA program, I came in already benefiting from the work that had been done before me. I also came into a firmly established, though not always positive, relationship between graduate students and the University, as well as between graduate students in different programs within the same department.

By the time I had arrived, there had been meetings with department chairs and graduate directors in order to create a student run literary journal. The University of Kansas already had an established literary magazine, just not one that was created, published, and produced by the students. This meant my predecessors were trying to figure out how Beecher’s (then unnamed) would work with the department.

Moving toward a new course, perhaps going against the directions that had always worked before, meant skepticism and a critical eye were watching us from the backseat.  What beautiful mess were these kids going to come up with?

As Iris Moulton, now our co-editor, said in our last article, the goal was to be as inclusive as possible with the University community. However, along with this, we wanted to give as much control and experience to the students as possible.

Multiple emails lists were created. Students wanted to know why the bylaws were created the way they were, and who exactly wrote them. We answered numerous questions from faculty members, the English student association, department heads, and in an attempt to appease everyone, we ended up in a four hour, 30 person meeting, counting endless squares of paper, typing 7 pages of minutes, voting on re-votes, until we had a board, a name, and a vision. Robert would have been proud. Or at least I like to think so. He might have been rolling over in his pretentiously organized grave.

The rest of the year we continued to struggle with communication. It was miscommunication, in part, that led to us not having a table for the book fair at AWP. An obstacle we maneuvered by passing out bookmarks to advertise our contest, and holding a reading at the Washington D.C. zoo. Instead of giving up on the opportunity AWP had to offer, we got creative and found a way to make it work without the traditional table.

We have learned quickly that although technology has been a great asset to us, trying to have a conversation about a piece of fiction through gmail is sometimes necessary and practical, but not always as productive.  We have to stay in contact electronically, but at some point, we also needed to be able to sit around a conference table, a front porch, or a living room rug, in order to talk about, and make decisions, regarding content.  I think a large part of this, was because most of us have never done this before. We’re all trying to figure it out together.

We have learned that each individual member of the editorial board, from the editor to the assistant design editor, has to be open to questions, ideas, and criticism. And then open to everyone about their responses. Though full meetings, with the entire staff, might be hectic and crowded, they are important to ensure that not only everyone knows what is going on, but knows what they need to do as individuals in order to create the actual issue. It turns out just like Don and Maxine’s 50 year marriage, what will help Beecher’s last, is open and honest communication.

We have learned, and are still learning, that you can’t make a magazine by yourself. We needed contributors, designers, artists, readers, committees, editors, professors, financial contributors, faculty advisors, reviewers, and consumers. And although we are still figuring out how to communicate with all of them, it is part of the process of beginning a journal. A magazine like ours is meant to be read, and to be shared. And perhaps because of this, we are more successful when we share as much as possible in its actual creation.

Caitlin Frances Thornbrugh was born and raised in Kansas City. She studied Creative Writing and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Kansas. She decided to stay in Lawrence to pursue her MFA in Creative Writing, where she is now working as the Managing Editor for Beecher’s.

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