Online Magazine is a Classy Home for Emerging Authors
I first came across Printer’s Devil Review at their AWP table in 2013. They had a relaxed, welcoming vibe amidst the hustle of free swag and calls for submissions, and I liked what they had to say about the necessity of independent literary magazines. Now here’s the part where I’m embarrassed to admit that I never got around to checking out their beautiful, free issues until almost a year later. The good news? It was totally worth the wait.
PDR isn’t flashy or loud, but it has every right to be. This is a beautifully put together magazine that appears truly committed to providing a polished platform for emerging writers. Published biannually, each professionally laid out issue of PDR includes “Duly Noted,” a short section near the table of contents noting PDR contributors’ book publications and literary awards. Their social media presence is similarly warm; tweets are low volume, but high in nutritious literary content; blog posts are short, succinct, and focus on local literary and art events involving PDR contributors.
Described as “a (primarily) online journal,” PDR offers totally free PDF downloads of every issue to anyone who wants it, with a print-on-demand option if you’d like to hold one of their gorgeous issues in your hands. With seven of them under their belt and an eighth slated for release this fall, PDR’s open access model seems to be working out well, and all without any institutional funding or support.
The latest issue begins with an intricately detailed oil painting on the cover from Australian painter Jeremy Geddes. Inside, there are two additional art features: Eileen Lang’s vivid series of acrylics inspired by Japanese suminagashi painters, and photography from Greer Muldowney documenting the visual presence of wind turbines on our urban American landscapes. The art in this issue doesn’t feel at all like set decoration; these are accomplished artists whose work invites contemplation and engagement, and the issue felt richer for their inclusion.
With about 85 pages in the issue, the collected writing here is arguably slim for a biannual journal. Just three stories and ten poems round out the two portfolios of artwork and accompanying essays, but I found this to be plenty enough to chew on. In their guidelines, the editors express an interest in “thoughtful, earnest fiction,” and while they accept work that ranges between 2,000 to 9,000 words, founding editor Thomas Dodson has stated a preference for longer stories. PDR is definitely not the right venue for flash, nor is it the place to send rough-around-the-edges pieces, despite the stated commitment to emerging writers. The stories in this issue make clear that this is a venue for considered works that, while not perfect, are still pretty damn good.
Beth Castrodale’s “Some Comfort” is a coming-of-age story involving neighborhood theft. One of the items in question is an archaic sex ed picture book the young protagonist had hidden under her bed. Castrodale deftly captures the complicated mix of yearning and shame the book—and its theft—inspire:
Though not many of the facts were new to me, something about the book, maybe just the stark progression of the illustrations, was my first hint that I was perhaps not so strange as I’d imagined. It was ordinary, maybe even inevitable, to be alone. Even when a man wants to get that close to you, even when a baby gathers life inside you. Even when you’re the baby, sheltered within your mother. From that point on, I looked at the book nearly every night before bed, until it vanished.
The other two stories in this issue, from Khanh Ha and David Bowen respectively, also center around young protagonists who experience significant life realizations. These three stories, all fairly traditional in style, feel thematically linked, despite the varying circumstances of their characters. They are “earnest” stories, sure, but they are also unafraid to deal with violence, budding sexuality, or complicated family secrets.
The four poets in this issue offer a range of collective literary experience. Jamison Crabtree, a PhD candidate with a handful of publications in small, mostly online journals, gets to the heart of what we talk about when we talk about Facebook in “Now We Are All Sons of Bitches”: “…I want to be there/ with cake and soup/ on your birthday when you’re sick./ But instead, I leave a note on your wall/ and I’m using/ the deaths of the people closest to me/ for the ideas they represent.”
Rico Manalo, a younger poet and recent graduate from Emerson’s BFA program, has some nice lines throughout, including the following from “Disorientalism”: “Tighten the tiny muscles of your skin. Raise your hackles./ You’ll never be free of them, not really. You are a mammal.” Like the prose, the poetry in this issue errs more on the side of legibility than experimentation, and both Manalo and Justin Runge play with a slightly prosier verse style in some of their pieces.
The writing presented here is solid, while still accessible, making Printer’s Devil Review a definite must-submit for the emerging writer. Most contributors have at least two or three published pieces, and there are a handful of chapbooks in the mix as well. Poet Emma Bolden is something of an outlier with several published titles, both nonfiction and poetry, to her credit, but as the “Duly Noted” section shows, many PDR contributors go on to publish well and often. The title of the journal is itself a nod to the work of promising writers near the beginning of their careers. “Printer’s devil” was the term for 19th century printer’s apprentices, whose ink spotted ranks included both Walt Whitman and Mark Twain. Dodson has said the title suggests “equal parts humility and hubris”—those printer’s devils were nobodies once, but hard-working nobodies who stuck with their craft.
Offering both the accessibility of an online magazine with the considered layout of a print journal, Printer’s Devil Review feels like the kind of journal where good writers who go on to be great can get their start. Free to download and open to submissions from May to September and October to January, PDR is definitely worth a spot on both your reading list and your submission spreadsheet.