UMSL community celebrates launch of 36th installment of Litmag, ‘Wander through the Woods’

by | May 13, 2024

About 80 people gathered in the Millennium Student Center to take part in the official release of the student-run literary and art journal.
Dana Pierson

Junior Dana Pierson, editor-in-chief of Litmag, welcomes members of the UMSL community who gathered in Century Room C Thursday to celebrate the launch of the 36th installment of the annual student-run UMSL literary and art journal. (Photos by Burk Krohe)

Senior Anna Connoley could hardly believe the turnout for the Litmag Launch Gala Thursday evening at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. One word came to mind when she looked around at the Great Gatsby- and old Hollywood-themed celebration.

“Overjoyed,” Connoley said. “Honestly, my cheeks hurt from smiling so much. I loved, loved how everything looked.”

About 80 members of the UMSL community gathered in Century Room C in the Millennium Student Center for the gala to launch the 36th installment of Litmag, the annual student-run UMSL literary and art journal comprised of works from campus creators. Many of the attendees got into the spirit of the event, wearing flapper dresses, ball gowns and chalk striped suits.

Junior Dana Pierson served as editor-in-chief and led a culling of hundreds of submissions down to 68 pieces of art, poetry and prose that made up Litmag’s final selections. Pierson noted this year’s edition is the largest to date, beating last year’s issue by a handful of entries.

The theme and subtitle of the issue, “Wander through the Woods,” is a distinct contrast to the previous installment of the publication, “You Are the Light.” Pierson said the Litmag staff drew inspiration from folklore and the genre’s conventions.

“You’re walking though meadows, walking through the woods, hitting water, it’s really just that folkloric theme,” she said. “That’s how we came across ‘Wander through the Woods.’ The submissions to highlight that, I would say, are a little bit darker in terms of themes this year. They’re very potent and very powerful.”

Kate Watt, Litmag advisor and associate teaching professor of English, said the pieces were ordered and paired together meticulously to create a unique journey for readers. Pierson explained that the magazine is broken into six distinct sections – From Home to Hedge, Reflections in a River, Eerie Encounters, Going to Town, Broken Effigy and A Final Resting Spot – to mimic a journey from home and to evoke the shifting emotions of the trek.

“If you look through the book, there are places that really are kind of comforting and familiar and welcoming and other places that are a bit eerie and unfamiliar and scary,” Watt said. “But it all comes together in this very beautiful kind of way.”

Connoley, who served as the managing editor, concurred.

“We put all of the pieces together in a way that kind of tells a story on its own, which is my favorite thing that I have ever done as part of a literary journal,” she said. “It’s just so cool, and I love it so much.”

Connoley added that several artists and authors submitted pieces intentionally meant to serve as two halves of a whole or to complement each other. She pointed to Valerie Dratwick’s paintings, “Sigourney” and “Absolem,” which are included in the Eerie Encounters section on back-to-back pages. Many of the pieces of writing are longer this year, as well, so the staff included “break pages” with art to provide a rest for readers and help them transition to the next stage of the journey.

"Boy 1990" painting

Several pieces of artwork featured in the magazine were displayed for attendees to enjoy, including “Boy 1990” by Bob Madden.

Watt also touted the partnership with the Department of Art and Design to help produce the publication. The collaboration began in 2022 but became more established last year. Assistant Teaching Professor Elizabeth Buchta’s graphic design students continued to take an active role in shaping the final product this year.

“This is the third time I’ve been a part of this,” said Buchta, who is a co-advisor with Watt. “Each year, it kind of gets more and more involved and includes more and more people. I want to thank Kate for her welcoming nature. She was very willing to share this project. It really does take all of us to complete this thing.”

Like the previous issue, the pages of “Wander through the Woods” include sketches mimicking those found in the margins of a well-worn textbook that invite readers to doodle themselves. Watt hopes that the interactive design elements become a signature for Litmag going forward. She was excited about one design feature in particular.

“Liv Scales designed a flip graphic,” Watt said. “In the book, you’ll see there’s just this little matchstick. Then if you flip through the rest of the book, that matchstick becomes animated and it sparks, ignites and then it shrinks and extinguishes. So there’s a flip book hidden like a little gem for readers to find.”

Throughout the night, Litmag staff members presented prizes for best art, poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction and multilingual writing. Several authors also performed readings of their work.

“I believe it came together really quite beautifully,” Pierson said of the final product. “I have to give shout-outs to our production team and the designers. They really worked together in order to put that vision together of a journey.

“It feels really great. Hands down, all the contributors, all the artists, all the staff members – designers and editorial – even our leaders Professors Watt and Buchta really guided us through this. It’s great to see the accumulation of our efforts.”

Burk Krohe

Burk Krohe