Litmag celebrates campus creativity with largest issue yet

by | May 15, 2023

About 75 members of the UMSL community gathered in the Millennium Student Center to celebrate the launch of the 35th installment of the student-run literary and art journal.
A group of students made up of white women, black women and black men standing in two rows

UMSL students on the Litmag staff (from top left clockwise) Editor-in-Chief Rachel Hanneken, Sarah Hartung, Ginger Redden, Ozoya Alao, Amy Kenny, Olabode Fatoki, Jayla McDonald, Samantha Peters, Lily Tredway and Mars Taylor, worked to produce the annual publication. Three committees culled submissions, laid out and printed the magazine and promoted it. (Photo by Burk Krohe)

Though she was put on the spot by Assistant Teaching Professor Kate Watt, senior Jayla McDonald spoke eloquently about the value of Litmag at the University of Missouri–St. Louis during the English Department Gala on May 5.

“It really illuminates the voices that are here at UMSL,” said McDonald, a member of the Litmag public relations committee. “Every day, we sit beside our peers, and we have no idea what’s in their mind. But to go through these stories, we get to see how extraordinary our students here are.”

About 75 members of the UMSL community gathered in Century A in the Millennium Student Center for the gala, which included a writers showcase, the presentation of department awards and scholarships and the launch of the 35th installment of Litmag, the annual student-run UMSL literary and art journal comprised of works from campus creators.

Junior Rebecca Hanneken served as editor-in-chief and led a culling of about 280 submissions down to 61 pieces of art, poetry and prose that made up Litmag’s final selections. Watt noted that this year’s edition is the largest to date.

“Having worked on the journal now for the last 10 years or so as the advisor, I think this is one of the best and most dynamic issues we’ve done in its 35-year history,” Watt said.

The Litmag staff had intended to narrow down the submissions further, but the students were inundated with so many quality creative pieces that they decided on a longer format. Hanneken said the wave of submissions made sense after the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic when many people were starved for interpersonal connection.

“We had a little over a year where none of us really saw anybody,” she said. “Art was really the only way that we could express ourselves. So, it made a lot of sense to me, and it’s great to see. The more submissions, the better.”

The staff aimed to publish a variety of works that offered readers an escape, but also an invitation to enjoy the present.

“The last issue of Litmag, they were kind of trying to embrace the question of whether things are going to go back to normal,” Hanneken said. “We decided that things might not ever go back to normal, so maybe we just need to enjoy what we have.”

Watt added that it was clear this year’s staff wanted Litmag to be an experience in addition to a publication.

“I really appreciated the commitment that the students this year gave to trying to incorporate a diverse pool of materials, of voices, of even the authors – because we have alumni that we published, we have some staff members, we have graduates and undergraduates in all different colleges and programs,” Watt said.

She also touted the partnership with the Department of Art and Design to help produce the publication. The collaboration began during the production of the previous edition, but this year, graphic design students in Assistant Teaching Professor Elizabeth Buchta’s class took a more prominent role in helping shape the final product.

“The work that they contributed to this year’s issue is just incredible,” Watt said. “What they brought to Litmag that I think makes it more dynamic this year, is that the book now encourages people, not just to sort of read it as this piece of art, but to actually really manhandle it to a degree. There are pages that invite people to write in the book, to doodle, to dogear pages and to just otherwise kind of interact with the text and the images in ways that we haven’t really experimented with. The end result, I think, is something that’s really cool and unique and stands apart from most undergraduate literary journals that are produced.”

Buchta concurred.

“I think Litmag is maybe the highest form of expression at UMSL in terms of really reflecting who we are and who we can be,” she said. “So, I just appreciate the opportunity to be a part of this.”

To wrap up the event, Litmag staff members presented prizes for best art, creative nonfiction, fiction, multilingual writing and poetry, and five authors, including Hanneken, performed readings of their work.

“I’m very proud of it,” Hanneken said of the final product. “I’m very proud of all of the editors and our students that worked on it. It’s funny when you start because you have a vision, and you don’t know how close to it you’re going to get. There were points where I was looking at the design, and I was like, ‘Man, this isn’t really what I had in mind, but it’s better.’ The execution of it is such a team effort and how we’re able to all contribute individually, and then also hone it into something that we all loved, I think speaks for how much we loved working on it.”

Burk Krohe

Burk Krohe