The upcoming spring semester means that one of Washburn’s student publications is about to start printing again.
Since 1972, Washburn students have published Inscape, a literary journal compiled, edited and published by upper division English students. It is a compilation of fiction and nonfiction short stories, poetry and artwork submitted by Washburn students. All stories must be under 3500 words, there is a great deal of freedom in terms of the subject matter of their submissions.
Eric McHenry, associate English professor, has been the faculty advisor to Inscape for the last two years. He said that the selection and editing processes are as creatively rewarding as they are challenging.
“I think most editors feel that something’s really got to change in the story,” McHenry said. “We are open to other forms or things that sort of test the boundaries between these genres – poetry with strong fictive elements, narrative poetry or things like that. There’s a lot of dialogue in deciding what [is published in Inscape.] Ostensibly, our criterion is excellence … but what we [each] feel is best is going to differ, and that’s where negotiation and discussion come into play.”
The visual art category is much more subjective in its selection process.
“[Visual art is not] judged the same way as a story is,” said Jason Hanna, senior English and fine arts major. “Not all visual art has a story, so when you look at visual art, there are so many things that go into it that make it a good piece. Composition, color scheme, subject matter – so many differing things go into a work of art.”
Putting the annual journal together is a difficult process, beginning in English 384, a capstone class which serves as a publishing lab for those working on an English major with a writing emphasis. It is meant to give those students firsthand experience as to how the publishing world works. After the class works together in selecting and editing submissions in the fall semester, they have a launch party in the spring, complete with refreshments and live readings by the published authors.
Despite being a Washburn publication, though, submissions are not limited to Washburn students, or college students at all, for that matter.
“About ten or so years ago, we started transforming [Inscape] into a journal that invites submissions from anybody from anywhere,” McHenry said. “We got hundreds of submissions from all over the country. If you look through the contributors’ notes, you can see that … many have published books before, published works [or been featured in] a lot of other literary journals.”
As well as being the one of three co-editors for Inscape, Hanna is the section editor for visual art and non-fiction.
“We already have close to 300 submissions,” Hanna said. “And [with] each of those submissions, everybody can submit five poems, one fiction, one nonfiction and three works of art. So technically, if you wanted, you could submit all that.”
According to McHenry, the selection process is competitive due to the sheer volume of submissions his class receives each year.
“There’s not always [Washburn] student work included,” McHenry said. “We read everything blind. We strip all the identifying information off all the submissions, so in there, it’s competing without the advantage of being known. It’s a double-edged sword when you do a shift from Inscape being a venue principally for student work, to being open to work from everywhere because it has crowded out the student work. Conversely, if you are a student and manage to publish work in Inscape, then you’ve [been published alongside] authors with books and extensive publishing history already … t’s more of an impressive achievement.”
Historically, literary journals have served as a way to showcase up and coming authors, or to act as a who’s who of the publishing world. Lately, however, the rise of social media has served as a way for authors to promote themselves and directly interact with readers. Andy Weir’s “The Martian” serves as a prime example. The best-selling novel started as a writing project on the author’s website, before being picked up by a major publishing company and adapted into an award-winning movie.
McHenry said that, like most publications in the digital age, Inscape is learning to adapt with the modern age.
“We are trying to create more of an online presence for Inscape,” said McHenry. “We just re-designed the website. [It] has, among other things, the complete table of contents from the current issue … We like both the idea that you can get a little sample of what our editors’ tastes have been in the past, what has been published by our website and that we can give some authors whose work we published and really admire a little extra exposure as well.”
McHenry said that a change in literary tastes is to be expected from year to year, both in terms of submissions and the editors’ personal preferences.
“One thing I’ve noticed is that [young adult] or fantasy fiction are the types of writing that most of my students are interested in,” said McHenry. “A lot of editors would be very receptive to YA fiction or fantasy if they were to receive more of it, and they aren’t seeing much of it. 15 or 20 years ago, if you had talked to a creative writing professor here at Washburn, he or she might refer a little condescendingly to genre fiction. I know it’s taught on the education side of the English department; [secondary English education majors] are going to be high school teachers, so they will be teaching YA, science fiction, fantasy, graphic novels, comic books – things like that. Professors are now teaching courses built around that sort of thing … Going forward, [I suspect that those genres] will be reflected in Inscape eventually.”
According to McHenry, the publishing vacuum left behind when Inscape moved away from being a Washburn-centered journal is open to be filled if there are students who would like to start up a new journal specifically geared towards Washburn students.
“That would be a really great compliment to Inscape rather that competition,” McHenry said.