The oldest literary journal in Minnesota, “Great River Review,” has started its new life at the University of Minnesota. After the graduate and creative writing programs took over publication in 2016, the first Minneapolis-based issue was published recently and celebrated at the Weisman Art Museum on Tuesday.
Published at the Anderson Center in Red Wing from 1996 to 2015, “Great River Review” was passed onto the University after its director, poet Robert Hedin, retired.
“He contacted me and Julie Schumacher [director of the creative writing program] about the possibility of taking over the journal, and we were thrilled,” said “Great River Review” Editor Peter Campion. “It wasn’t just a local magazine… This had been publishing work from distinguished writers from all over the country and internationally.”
The journal is currently produced through a graduate-level seminar that introduces students to the history and business of literary magazines.
“When you track down these magazines, you find that enmeshed with all the literary art… were politics [and] gossip that were part of the stew from which art arises,” Campion said. “This class is a great way for students to get out there and learn about literary culture and business.”
While “Great River Review” is produced in Minneapolis, its editors don't want to limit its focus to the Twin Cities metro area. The publication instead strikes a balance by welcoming writers from across the world and celebrating the thriving literary scene in the Twin Cities.
“I think everyone would say that [the Twin Cities are] a very welcoming community,” said Gretchen Marquette, a poet featured in the latest issue of “Great River Review.” “If you show up and try to make a home for yourself in it, you’ll find one. It’s a beautiful thing to go to a poetry reading on a Tuesday night when it’s negative 12 degrees out and standing room only.”
“Great River Review” is a smaller literary journal, which is vital to the literary community as a whole.
“They’re an important part of the literary food chain. Without it, the whole system would collapse,” Marquette said. “They’re an important place for people to see what their favorite established writers are doing between books, and they’re also a place to find new voices.”
“Great River Review” publishes a variety of work from both seasoned and emerging writers alike in an effort to engage everyone, not just scholars of the literary community.
“To me, the readership is anybody and everybody. I hope that in this issue… we speak to scholars, but we also have fiction and poetry that we hope will engage the proverbial man or woman on the street,” said Brett Sigurdson, a second year English Ph.D student who works on the publication.
Upcoming installments of “Great River Review” will also include more longform interviews and book reviews than previous issues.
“One thing we’re doing a little bit more of is publishing book reviews,” Campion said. “Over the last 20 years, book pages in newspapers have been repeatedly cut … It’s fallen to small magazines to pick up some of the slack, [and] I also think it’s a really important skill for aspiring writers to learn.”
The process of producing the journal is an unparalleled experience for students.
“’Great River Review’ class isn’t just about publication but, in a meta way, it’s about talking about what we’re doing by putting our publication out there,” Sigurdson said. “I feel like I’m engaged in an active process in my literary community.”
Sigurdson worked for other small newspapers and literary magazines before coming to the University and hopes his fellow students gain the same practical, hands-on experience.
“We don’t want to be seen as a student literary journal. We want to be seen as a literary journal that students are an active and important part of,” Sigurdson said. “This comes from my experience working largely on small papers, where I’ve had to wear all the hats, [but] I think it’s important that students have experience in all facets of putting this together.”
Though the first issue has been successfully published, the team behind “Great River Review” is still figuring out how to proceed with the journal’s production.
“Right now … it’s only structured as really three or four months of spring semester, so once students leave, there’s no incentive for students to keep working on it,” Sigurdson said.
As the “Great River Review” continues to publish more work, the goal of the journal remains the same: to provide a literary experience for readers, writers and editors alike.
“The first thing that I realized is that the really fun part of editing a journal is like being the host of a party,” Campion said. “You’re creating this kind of cocktail, and then it will take on its own life. That’s what I hope that we’ll be doing — having a kind of literary party for our readers.”