Natural Bridge managing editor builds virtual community through online reading series

by | May 29, 2020

Molly Harris organized three Zoom readings featuring 17 writers and translators from the literary journal's 2019-2020 issues.
UMSL MFA student Molly Harris leads the production of the university's literary journal, Natural Bridge. She organized a virtual reading series featuring contributors from this year's issues that's taking place over the following weeks. (Photo by August Jennewein)

UMSL MFA student Molly Harris leads the production of the university’s literary journal, Natural Bridge. She organized a virtual reading series featuring contributors from this year’s issues that’s taking place over the following weeks. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Molly Harris refused to name her favorite piece of writing in the latest issue of Natural Bridge journal.

That makes sense. As the person who designed the University of Missouri­–St. Louis graduate-student-run literary magazine, she’s closer than most to every word published.

Then again, it could be top-notch politics from the fiction MFA candidate.

“I don’t pick favorites,” Harris said. “I’m very proud of everything that we’re publishing.”

As managing editor – a funded graduate assistant position in the Department of English – Harris is responsible for laying out the print magazine in InDesign and sending the finished product to the press. The program normally prints the magazine once a semester.

The coronavirus pandemic smashed those plans last semester, delaying the spring issue and making an in-person launch impossible. Harris rose to the occasion ­– organizing an online launch/reading series to get the word out about Natural Bridge and create a virtual community among writers and MFA students alike.

“I thought that would be a good way to get everyone together,” she said. “Especially since a lot of our writers aren’t local, so it’s a great chance for them to finally be a part of these launches. One thing that’s so important for creative writers is this sense of community. I’m very thankful for platforms such as Zoom and the ability to do it all digitally. Even if it’s not quite the same, it’s close, and I think that’s all you can hope for in times like this.”

The first virtual reading took place on May 15 featuring Joel Friederich, Lyzette Wanzer, Penelope Moffet, Lisa Bubert and Terena Elizabeth Bell and can be viewed here. The second will be on May 29 and feature K.A. Polzin, Holly Karapetkova, Dostena Anguelova, Stuart Gunter, Linda Woolford and Michael Walsh. The final reading with Katherine Fallon, Gregory Divers, Yaak Karsunke, Ed Dupree, K.C. Snow and Ellen Malphrus will take place on June 12. Those interested can tune in here at 7:30 CST through Zoom.

Making the virtual reading series happen capped off a year of challenges and triumphs as managing editor, a role that Harris will reprise during the fall semester before her expected graduation in December. Finding artwork for the spring stands out in her mind as one of the more difficult yet rewarding moments.

Her position complements the literary magazine class in which MFA students read submissions for consideration and eventually narrow those down to the handful that ultimately get printed in Natural Bridge.

It was actually the literary magazine and the prospect of a program with a publishing aspect that drew Harris to UMSL originally, so it made sense that she’d go after the position once a student.

“It’s really good hands-on work experience,” Harris said. “I’ve always wanted to work in publishing, and now I have this on my CV. I am getting so much experience in planning and actual design work as well as editing and copy editing and copywriting and all that.”

Working on the magazine has complemented the craft aspects of the MFA program. Though at one time she’d thought she might focus on literary criticism, Harris’ love for reading quickly pulled her to creative writing.

“I really enjoy writing,” she said. “Like I just really enjoy reading.”

As she approaches the end of her UMSL MFA experience, Harris has begun to consider her next move. She’s thinking about teaching as an adjunct and continuing to work in a writing center but still hopes to make her way into publishing.

Until then, she’s focusing on what’s been the best part of the UMSL MFA program for her.

“Just meeting everyone in the program and being able to make these connections and these friendships that are definitely going to last well after the program is over,” Harris said. “Because everyone in our program is from different parts of the country and we all bring different experiences to the table. It’s been really nice to get to know and learn from them.”

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Jessica Rogen

Jessica Rogen

Eye on UMSL: Tending the gardens
Eye on UMSL: Tending the gardens

Biology student James Ott and Sustainable Energy & Environmental Coordinator Katy Mike Smaistrla pull weeds last week in the native gardens north of the Recreation Wellness Center.

Eye on UMSL: Tending the gardens

Biology student James Ott and Sustainable Energy & Environmental Coordinator Katy Mike Smaistrla pull weeds last week in the native gardens north of the Recreation Wellness Center.

Eye on UMSL: Tending the gardens

Biology student James Ott and Sustainable Energy & Environmental Coordinator Katy Mike Smaistrla pull weeds last week in the native gardens north of the Recreation Wellness Center.