MFA alumna breathes new life into december magazine

UMSL students Nicholas Smith and Jena Doering read the revival issue of december, the literary magazine brought back to life by Gianna Jacobson, MFA 2010. (Photo by August Jennewein)

The prominent literary magazine december is warming up with the help of University of Missouri–St. Louis alumna Gianna Jacobson, MFA 2010. Volume 25 comes out May 15. It is highly anticipated after the warm reception of her revival issue (Volume 24) that came out this past December, appropriately, after having been dormant since 1981.

The former owner of december, the late Curt Johnson, focused his energy on december press at the time but always desired that the magazine return to its previous publishing glory. Known for publishing the early work of some of the greats such as Raymond Carver, Donald Justice, Philip Levine, Joyce Carol Oates and James Wright, it is quite a history for Jacobson to take on.

But the obligation she owes to the past doesn’t paralyze her ambition for the magazine. Jacobson trusts her artistic instincts, which she honed as a fiction writer in the MFA in Creative Writing program at the UMSL. Twice she took the literary journal-editing course that requires graduate students to form the editorial board of UMSL’s literary journal, Natural Bridge.

“I never minded the reading,” she says. “It was fun digging through the submissions to find the gems.”

Her lengthy time in the MFA program (2003-2010) taught her how to better critique writing, hers and her peer’s work.

And while Jacobson is most definitely a solid writer, having once written as a serious journalist for publications like The New York Times, she fancies herself a great reader.

“I know how to pick them. When I read, I know what a piece of writing needs.”

She truly is an editor at heart. That love deemed her the “spiritual heir” of december in November 2012 by Craig Sutter, Johnson’s executor of his estate. Along with the rights to the title came 40 boxes of back issues dating back to 1958 with its first volume.

With the help of grant money from the Kranzberg Family Foundation of St. Louis, she began working toward her December 2013 revival issue, reading through old volumes, the second being her favorite.

“Volume 8 is the most recognized for its Marilyn Monroe cover and the Carver story, but I really love Volume 2,” she says. “It’s mimeographed and so experimental, bold and hopeful.”

After getting acquainted with the past, Jacobson contacted over 160 former contributors, expecting 10-20 would reply.

“I was astonished by the response. I received 90 replies, 86 of which included new work.”

The enthusiastic response helped Jacobson construct her “then and now” revival issue.

“I always want december to be a coming home for old writers doing new things and a warm welcome for those yet to be published.”

In fact, she has been so thoughtful about the revival, and people have been so supportive that december is now a growing community of subscribers, submitters and editors. Jacobson hopes that connections with the magazine, old and new, will only grow stronger while she is at the helm.

Her vision and efforts are being celebrated too. The revival of december was featured in the January/February issue of “Poets & Writers,” a nationally distributed, highly regarded magazine for writers.

“It was a nice piece,” she says. “Odd to be on the other end and not the journalist.”

More than anything, Jacobson is happy to see december receiving recognition once again.

Subscribe and submit to december online at decembermag.org.


This story was written by Marisol Ramirez, a student pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at UMSL.

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