Litmag gives UMSL community a chance to shine in its pages, behind the scenes

by | May 13, 2019

The 31st annual edition of the student-run literary and art journal features 48 works from 31 different creators.
Litmag launch party – Kenny Dickens

Kenny Dickens, a junior English major, reads his poem “Drawer” at the launch party for Litmag, UMSL’s annual student-run literary and art journal, on May 3 in the Millennium Student Center. (Photo by August Jennewein)

As editor-in-chief, Jorie Sims had been intimately involved in every step that went into the production of this year’s edition of Litmag, the annual student-run University of Missouri–St. Louis literary and art journal comprised of works from creators in the campus community.

The culling of more than 250 submissions down to a more manageable crop for in-depth discussion. The further paring down of that group to the 48 works of poetry, prose and art that made up Litmag’s final selections. The fundraising for and promotion of the latest issue, the copy editing, desktop publishing, layout and designing of the final product.

Sims had a hand in all of it. Until the issue went off to the printer.

“Once it sends, you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I have no control over it anymore.’ It’s quite terrifying,” said Sims, who is graduating with a BA in both English and communication this month. “It kind of makes you question yourself as an individual. You’re like, ‘Did I do it right? Are all of the mistakes fixed? Is it going to look OK? Are people going to enjoy it?’”

Litmag cover

The painting “Hummingbirds” by computer science master’s student Nachammai Palaniappan graces the cover of this year’s Litmag. (Photo courtesy of Kate Watt)

Trepidation gave way to elation once the issues came back. This year’s Litmag – all 116 pages of it – was a rousing success.

The Litmag staff, advisors, contributors and other well-wishers celebrated the accomplishment with a launch party May 3 in Century Room A at the Millennium Student Center. The event started with Sims being honored as this year’s recipient of the Robert Smith Writing Certificate and ended with senior Tarika Walton reciting her poem “Le Flux” in both French and English.

In between, authors performed 10 different selections from the journal, and alumna Angela Blash – winner of this year’s Litmag art contest for her painting “Extranjera (Foreigner)” – won a “tip jar” of wise words from Department of English faculty.

Assistant Teaching Professor of English Matt Kimbrell offered a few bits of advice himself during a rousing speech, centered on combating the notions of presumption and despair that impede the progress of writers, before the open mic portion.

“As storytelling is one of the sustaining arts, one of the affirming arts, the very act of being a writer seems to be an optimistic act,” Kimbrell said. “Writers turn every terminal period into an ellipsis. Anyone who’s in the business of standing for what I stand for realizes the great privilege it is to, individually, gather your courage in our classes as you fight these monsters.”

At its core, Litmag is a course – English 4895. Assistant Teaching Professor Kate Watt leads a class of 19 student editors through a semester-long lesson in literary journal publication. Those who are using the course as a capstone experience for their undergraduate writing certificates – like Sims and art editor Julie Harms, who also emceed the launch party – take on leadership roles.

Everyone plays their part in the final project, which goes out all over campus.

“The actual production of the magazine takes about 12 weeks, which is an unreal amount of time for people to be putting something like this together,” Watt said. “Having an outlet, an opportunity to network with others who like to find ways of expressing themselves, surprising and entertaining readers, just saying something of substance and value, we don’t have a whole lot of places where they can really showcase that.”

Litmag launch party

The crowd listens intently and follows along as English master’s student Alicia Price reads her prose work “Calm” during the Litmag launch party. (Photo by August Jennewein)

This year’s 31st edition contains pieces from 31 different UMSL students, staffers and alumni. Kenny Dickens, a junior English major, performed his contest-winning poem “Ferryman” at the launch party. Jeffrey Pryor, a 2018 MA/BA graduate in history, won the prose contest with “The Invisible Hero,” a story about his relationship with his World War II veteran grandfather.

The written pieces range from five lines to six pages.

“The quality of the pieces is phenomenal,” Sims said. “It was amazing to see how all of these different pieces could come together and be a book.”

For Sims, the entire experience was a window into what she hopes to do as a career. She starts a master’s program in publishing at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., in the fall.

“One of my main things growing up was I wanted to be able to read for the rest of my life and get paid to do it,” Sims said. “I searched for a very long time for how I could do that, and publishing kind of came up. I’ve been lucky enough to get the opportunity to get involved in it.”

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