Playing a Role in the Foundation of Culture: a Conversation with Brandi George, editor of Southeast Review
The Southeast Review, established in 1979 as Sundog, is a national literary magazine housed in the English department at Florida State University and is edited and managed by its graduate students and a faculty consulting editor. The mission of The Southeast Review is to present emerging writers on the same stage as well-established ones.
Brandi George grew up in rural Michigan. Her poems have appeared in such journals as Gulf Coast, Prairie Schooner, Best New Poets 2010, and The Iowa Review. She currently resides in Tallahassee, where she is a PhD candidate at Florida State University, Assistant to the Director of Creative Writing, and editor of The Southeast Review.
Interview by Beth Bates
Here is an opportunity, once and for all, to clear up the Sundog confusion (please). a) When and why the name switch? b) The Sundog Lit blog that’s still out there – any relation?
a) This was before my time, but SER’s former editor, Todd Pierce, was kind enough to enlighten me on the subject. The name change had much to do with the technology and literary culture of the late 90s. This was before online journals and e-readers, back when there were only 50-60 journals at the AWP Bookfair. Most journals had names that reflected their university affiliation, such as Massachusetts Review, Mississippi Review, or Northwest Review. Todd writes that editorial board made the decision for two reasons:
(1) It was a good idea to align the journal with the "name format" of other significant university-sponsored literary journals and distance it from the quirkiness of independent journals and (2) it was a good time to christen the journal with a new name as the program, itself, had transformed into one of the most important centers for PhD study in creative writing.
And so the name Sundog was left behind, reflecting through the literary world as the Southeast Review’s phantom halo.
b) No relation to the Sundog Lit blog, although I went to Northern Michigan University with two of their masthead: Cynthia Brandon Slocum (Nonfiction and Design Editor) and Aubrey Jane Ryan (Poetry Editor). Cynthia was my officemate, and one of my first (very bad) formal poems praised her hair.
“Southeast” suggests a connotation of “regional,” though clearly SER is a national magazine, given the diversity of featured authors, from Codrescu and Pinsky to Atwood and Rushdie. What would you like to say to potential submitters or subscribers who might overlook Southeast Review, possibly dismissing it as regional and solely devoted to southern literature?
I would strongly encourage them to submit. Florida State’s Creative Writing Program supports a wide variety of aesthetics, and our editors are able to recognize work that is inhabited by that unquantifiable element—a “soul” perhaps, the thing that makes for moving, innovative, and animated literature. I think of Martin Buber’s I and Thou in which he contemplates a tree. After describing all of the tree’s features, listing its properties and uses, there is finally something that defies logic and explanation. The tree ceases to become an “it,” a thing to be used, and it instead is transformed into a “thou.” He is able to relate to it with his whole being. This is what it is like to discover a great poem, story, or essay. We select work that engages us in this intimate relationship. We want writing that is more than competent; it must also be inspired.
And yet, geography does effect what we read and write, and it should. It is important to connect to the places where we live for many reasons. Being close to the landscape promotes ethical relationships with nonhuman forms of life. I would also suggest that the land has a consciousness and energy that is translated into our writing and thinking.
Say a little about the relationship between SER and artwork, and literary magazines and artwork in general. SER’s request for “innovative, original” art for your covers says a lot about your aesthetic. Your submissions guidelines request art, “especially work that represent the southeastern region of the United States.” Given the geographic diversity of the literary content of SER, what’s the philosophy behind the request for regional art?
As stated above, the landscape influences most artists, visual, literary, or otherwise. Art is art. The medium is important only so far as we concern ourselves with technique. Artists find a medium that they can effectively manipulate to form an expression. Whether the artist uses paintings or sentences, it is the same gesture. As a result, we like to publish a variety of mediums, including poems, paintings, essays, stories, comics, etc, and they speak to each other. For instance, in our most recent issue, 32.1, we published Nance Van Winckel’s PhoToems, which are photo-collage works that allow for complex relations between poetic phrases and images. However, we also keep an eye out for “southeastern” artists because, as stated above, we believe in the importance of place, and art is one way to forge this intimate connection.
Your regimens lend Southeast Review a generous, externally reaching vibe and seem to set SER apart from other national literary magazines. Who is the target audience for those regimens, and what do you see as the role of the regimens in the bigger picture? What’s your enrollment?
The Writer’s Regimen is one of our most unique and underappreciated contributions to the literary community. Basically, we create a 30-day program to help writers (1) create a body of work (fiction, poetry, or nonfiction) and (2) develop the habit of writing every day. For $15.00, each participant receives 30-days of writing prompts, reading/writing exercises, literary quotations, riff words, craft talks, and podcasts. This also includes an issue of Southeast Review (normally $8.00), so it’s a steal. We run new cycles in February and October, and we re-run those cycles in December and June. Our re-run of last February’s cycle begins on June 1st, and you can sign up at http://southeastreview.org/regimen.html.
Although anyone will benefit from using the regimens, our participants are primarily those who want to add some structure to their writing lives, improve their technique, or quickly generate a mass of new material. Teachers of creative writing courses often assign the regimens to their classes as well. We get several hundred participants per year, and that number keeps growing as those who sign up once typically return for each new cycle.
If SER were a person, what books would be on her bedside table? Who would be his or her two favorite authors/poets of all time, living or deceased?
For this question, I’ve decided to poll the editors. Since SER often inhabits multiple bodies and is exempt from the laws of physics, we can imagine she reads all of these at once.
Nick Sturm, our Book Review Editor, says, “Lisa Robertson's Nilling and Mary Ruefle's Madness, Rack, and Honey are where I lay my head.”
Jacob Newberry, our Nonfiction Editor, reports that his favorite poet is Claire Malroux. His metaphorical bedside table includes Walking to Martha's Vineyard by Franz Wright and Demon Camp by Jennifer Percy.
Our Fiction Editor, Olivia Wolfgang-Smith, defines her favorite authors as Andrea Barrett and Tolstoy. On the bedside table, you’ll find Andrea Barrett's Ship Fever, Claire Vaye Watkins's Battleborn, and Elena Passarello's Let Me Clear My Throat.
Jen Schomburg Kanke, our Poetry Editor, includes among her favorite poets William Wordsworth, Lucia Perillo, David Trinidad and Annie Finch. Her favorite fiction writers are Terry Pratchett, Octavia Butler, and John Steinbeck. On her bedside table right now are A Clown at Midnight by Andrew Hudgins, Then She Found Me by Elinor Lipman, and Reveries of the Wild Woman by Helene Cixous.
Our Art Editor, Jessica Reidy’s, favorite authors are Rajko Đjurić and Edna St. Vincent Millay. She has a deep love for Symbolist painters, Art Noveau, and the contemporary Romani arts movement. Her favorite artists include Lita Cabellut (featured in SER 32.2) and Henri Rousseau. The books on her bedside table are Paris Journal 1944-1955 by Janet Flanner, Nightwood by Djuna Barnes, Shakti: Realm of the Divine Mother by Vanamali, Gypsy Boy by Mikey Walsh, The End of Free Love by Susan Steinberg, The Gypsies by Jan Yoors, Bhagavad Gita translated by Stephen Mitchell, Dreamers of Decadence by Philippe Jullian, and Roads of the Roma: a PEN Anthology of Gypsy writers (PEN American Center's Threatened Literature Series) edited by Rajko Đjurić, Ian Hancock, and Siobhan Dowd.
As for me, I love plays by poets, and works that combine multiple genres and mediums. My favorite writers are Anne Carson, Jorie Graham, Eleni Sikelianos, Robert Duncan, Friedrich Nietzsche, Dylan Thomas, and Ovid. As I enjoy working on many projects at once, my bedside table is almost as crowded as Jessica’s, including John the Revelator by TJ Beitelman, Nods by Carrie Lorig, Rites of Conquest by Charles E. Cleland, the score of Debussy’s Prelude to “The Afternoon of a Faun,” and Aese Berg’s Transfer Fat translated by Johannes Göransson.
If a prospective subscriber were to select one issue to read, which one would you recommend as quintessential Southeast Review, the one that would convince him or her to subscribe?
My favorite is Issue 32.1, or most recent creation. It features art from Nance Van Winckel and Lesley Oldaker, poetry from Jaswinder Bolina, Gianmarc Manzione, and Kathryn Nuernberger, fiction from Eliot Khalil Wilson, Allison Wyss, and Kat Gonso, and nonfiction from Nora Kipnis, Elizabeth McConaghy, and Pamela Balluck. There is also an incisive interview with Don Bogen, and smart book reviews by Nate Pritts, Okla Elliott, and Misha Rai. These are just a few of my favorites. I can honestly say that I loved every piece.
The Review Review’s own C.A. LaRue pinpoints what SER does best in her review of 32.1 titled, “Between Tradition and Innovation, Florida Lit Mag Finds Beautiful Balance.” She writes, “It should be clear by now that this is a magazine which toes the line between tradition and innovation, and it does so with such skill that I find it hard to believe it has not received more attention in the press.” Our editors recognize that deeply felt writing often exists in a slippery place between tradition and innovation. They are able to sense when a piece is ALIVE with an intangible force, what Lorca termed duende.
What is your feeling about the doomsday predictions over the future of print (or heck, even online) literary magazines? What do you see as SER’s role, or the role of readers and writers, in that forecast?
As readers, artists, and editors, we have the power to keep print or dispense with it as we please. Change is inevitable, although we may miss some aspects of the past. And yet the future harbors undreamt-of forms of expression. Ultimately, we might find that print limits our works’ potential for innovation.
I do enjoy the corporeality of print, but maybe e-readers will grant artists the freedom to create hybrid works without worrying about practical concerns such as cost. I don’t think “doomsday predictions” are useful or productive. Fear is an inversion of creativity, and we need embrace new technologies with all of our imaginative and intellectual powers. If we are able to use them as tools, then we’ll also be able to ignore them when it doesn’t suit us. We need to be the manipulators not the manipulated.
I believe that literary journals like SER play a role in the formation of culture. Editors sift through the slush pile to gift us with pieces they love and respect. I say “gift” because it is a very time-consuming task. Like me, many editors believe that writing can transform us, make us more empathetic, responsible human beings. Writing can infuse our lives with myth and magic. If there is a meaning to life, then this is it.
When I was at AWP last year I encountered more than one editor practically begging for CNF submissions. Would you say there’s a shortage of quality work submitted in particular genre? Is there a genre you’d like to see more among the submissions SER receives?
We get significantly less creative nonfiction submissions than poetry or fiction, although we rarely have trouble finding quality work to publish in that genre. This applies to our regular and contest submissions.
What dream story or poem do you wish would be written and submitted to Southeast Review?
I don’t know about the rest of the editors, but I’d like to see more work that bridges multiple genres and mediums, while also maintaining a strong emotional center.