"We Strive for Very High Quality."
A Chat With Gerald Trites, Editor of The Antigonish Review
Founded in 1970, The Antigonish Review prides itself on offering an eclectic array of poetry and prose by emerging as well as established writers. One of the oldest continuing literary magazines in Canada, the Review has an international reach, with readers in Germany, Korea, France, and Saudi Arabia, and submissions coming from as far away as Afghanistan and Brazil. Annie Dillard, Marshall McLuhan, and Margaret Atwood are among the award-winning writers whose work has been featured in the journal.
Gerald Trites, Managing Editor, shared his thoughts with The Review Review.
Interview by Chuck Augello
There’s no shortage of literary journals. How does The Antigonish Review hope to distinguish itself from other publications?
We strive for very high quality and have a strong track record in that regard. Most print publications are having a hard time these days and electronic substitutions for publications such as literary journals are looking more viable. We are in process of switching to an electronic format with, hopefully, a print-on-demand service.
Describe your role as editor. What’s an average “day in the life” for the editor of a literary journal?
It’s not a full-time job, but it does occupy one’s mind much of the time. As editor, I monitor all submissions coming in through “Submittable” and see that they are being assigned to the editors. I watch for accepted manuscripts and read them and direct any questions to the relevant editors. I oversee the building of issues and their production, both for print and for the electronic form. At present, I monitor the subscribers database, but we are looking for a subscriptions manager to manage and promote subscriptions. All of our positions are volunteer. I also manage the finances and the other day-to-day activities.
The Review is a Canadian-based journal. Do you see a different sensibility in submissions from Canadian writers than those from Americans? If so, how would you describe the difference?
We attract largely Canadian writers although there are others from the US and some other countries. We also attract submissions from Atlantic Canada and like to see them published for the first time. However, we evaluate all submissions on their merits and do not strongly favour submissions from any particular source.
Much has been written lately about the lack of diversity in literary journals. How does The Antigonish Review handle this issue?
This is a good point and we are beginning to address it directly by working to include segments of society that have not been well represented in the past. Currently we are focusing on finding the art and writing of indigenous people for inclusion.
Walk us through the submission process from the time a story or poem arrives at your office.
All submissions come in through the “Submittable” program. They are then assigned to the area editor – fiction editor, poetry editor, etc. Those editors have readers available to them and they will look at the submissions and either assign them to a reader or reject them outright. Normally each submission processed is read by two readers who then provide their input to the area editor. That editor then decides to accept or reject the submission. If accepted, it goes into the “accepted but not published” database and I and the production manager use this pool to assemble the issues. Generally we try to include the oldest first, but sometimes thematic issues interfere.
Do you see any recurring patterns with submissions? Are there certain character types or narrative elements that pop up too frequently?
Our acceptance rate is low and a major reason for this is that a lot of the submissions are rather commonplace (cliché). We are looking for original expression or thought, and that is sometimes hard to find.
Each issue contains several book reviews. What should writers know if they are interested in submitting a review?
We only review a small portion of the books submitted for review. We are looking for something special, whether it’s a unique contribution to literature or a setting that would have special appeal to our readers, such as an Atlantic setting.
Issue 185 contained poems in translation by Ling Yu and Georgette LeBlanc, with the poem in its original language and the translation printed on opposing pages. Why is it important to show the poem in both forms?
Any readers would not understand the poem in its original language so it is important to show its literal meaning. However, the beauty of poetry lies in its use of the language and readers can sometimes get a sense of the beauty of the original language if they see it and know what it is trying to say. We have received good feedback about our translation program.
The Antigonish Review has been publishing for forty years. What accounts for its longevity?
Quality and consistency. Over time, TAR has built up a reputation across Canada and to some extent around the world for this quality. Of course, it would not have been possible to continue without the strong support of St Francis Xavier University and the Canada Council and in many years the Province of Nova Scotia.
Climate change, gross inequality, terrorism, war, an increase in disturbing public rhetoric, particularly in the United States—in short, the world feels like a mess. What role does literature play in helping people navigate through difficult times?
A major role. Literature offers commentary on society that people can relate to and a means of understanding current events that cannot be gleaned from the news alone. The current interest in dystopian literature is a case in point.
Finally, what advice would you give to a writer hoping to be published in your journal?
Keep writing every day. Submit often. Don’t be concerned about rejection. All writers accumulate piles of rejection letters. Write truly and honestly. Have something to say, an interesting story to tell.
Chuck Augello lives in New Jersey with his wife, dog, three cats, and several unnamed squirrels who live in the back yard. His work has appeared in One Story, Smokelong Quarterly, Word Riot, Juked, A Lonely Riot, and other fine places. A contributing editor for Cease, Cows, he publishes The Daily Vonnegut, featuring interviews, essays, and trivia about the work of Kurt Vonnegut.