Grist: A Journal For Writers Editor-in-Chief, Christian Anton Gerard, talks with FUSE about his experiences in editing and publishing. Grist is an annual literary magazine produced by the University of Tennessee. It features fiction, poetry, editorial interviews, and creative nonfiction discussions of craft. Grist accepts both accessible and innovative fiction from both new and established authors, and seeks mainly “quality”in their selected submissions. Grist is a forum that is strongly dedicated to creating a space for quality literature and discussions on craft.
Interview conducted by Sarah-Jane Abate, Susquehanna ’14
How did you become interested in editing? How’d you end up at Grist?
Grist: The Journal for Writers is a publication of the Department of English at the University of Tennessee. We are graduate student run, which also means that our editorship changes each academic year. In that sense, I haven’t “ended up” at Grist. I’m quite fortunate to be in a graduate program so supporting of creative writing and creative writers. I have worked on Grist in every imaginable capacity, beginning as a general reader, which afforded me the opportunity to watch my colleagues and learn from their work before I was awarded the editorship this past year.
As for my interest in editing, that’s a different story. As a younger writer I didn’t understand that writers and editors work together, that editors aren’t just gate-keepers, but often (especially in this climate) writers themselves looking to publish and promote the writing that fits best with their publication’s aesthetic and mission. it’s become sort of a cliché, but editing, more often than not, is indeed a labor of love.
I love editing because it not only means I have the opportunity to read and be a part of publishing the work of so many incredible writers, but also because in doing so, I’m constantly reminded that every writer’s writing is marked by a fingerprint of sorts, a set of nuanced idiosyncrasies marking the work as their own, and picking up on all of them is at once a challenge and a gift, a reminder that the outer, no matter how guarded, is always an extension of the interior’s genuine ingenuity.
What do your duties for Grist, as head editor, involve?
As Grist’s editor-in-chief, I am responsible for every operation undertaken by the journal, from selecting the year’s staff to maintaining the journal’s website to working with readers, assistant editors, and genre editors as incoming work moves through our editorial process to the journal’s layout and design, while also running the Grist reading series and coordinating the journal’s launch in the spring of each year.
Luckily, I have an incredible staff this year, writers who ridiculously passionate about promoting contemporary literature in every way possible. They have made it possible for me to keep track of the journal’s needs and are really who deserve credit in the journal’s running. I couldn’t do it by myself. Perhaps that’s the best “duty” of editing Grist: The opportunity to work with my colleagues on a journal supporting our collective beliefs about writing and publishing in the contemporary moment.
What is your process for considering submissions? (Is there anything, in your opinion, that’s an instant turnoff? Anything that gets you to take a closer look? How far into reading a submission do you reject it?)
The only instant turn off for us is when a writer chooses to ignore our submission guidelines. Grist currently publishes 2-3% of all the submissions we receive on a yearly basis, which means A. that we receive hundreds of high quality submissions each month and B. that we’re very busy during the reading months because everything we receive is guaranteed at least two reads from a reader and editor. Magazines have guidelines because guidelines are the basis for the reading and selection process. Interrupting that process causes undue stress on a journal’s system, while also seeming to indicate a lack of understanding for those who are volunteering so much of their time to make the journal happen.
Like most journals, our system involves reading and talking. Submissions come in through our online submission manager and are sent to our readers. The readers, well, read, the pieces, make notes on the pieces, and pass the pieces on to our assistant editors and genre editors, who also read the pieces, make notes on the pieces, and then pass them on to the editor-in-chief who works closely with the genre editors to select work for inclusion in the upcoming issue.
Grist is open to all styles, subjects, and themes and we receive work of all kinds, which is wonderfully invigorating. Every piece gets a close look, and the pieces that are ultimately selected for inclusion in an issue are those that continually speak to everyone involved in the decision making process. Of course, Grist isn’t just a hodge-podge of work that speaks to us, but a carefully crafted conversation between all of the pieces accepted for a particular issue. Our mission is to foster conversation amongst writers about writing and writing’s process and craft, and we incorporate this mission even into the selection of work. We hope this is clear when perusing an issue of Grist. Our hope is to select work that speaks to us, to our wider audience of readers, and to the other works within the volume.
Do you read other literary journals? Do you draw inspiration from them?
Reading literary journals keeps one’s finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the world of contemporary literature, and yes, I read a lot of them. Journals often provide a much different view of what’s happening than single author publications (don’t get me wrong, I love single-author books as well!). Reading many different journals exposes me to a rich array of literary voices published by readers, writers, and editors with a wide range of taste and aesthetic values. I’m one who wants to read the widest variety possible. Reading journals allows me to follow writers I love before their books come out or in between their books’ publication, while also, often introducing me to writers I may never have otherwise encountered.
Grist markets itself as a journal for writers, and places an importance on fostering discussion of craft. How do you go about doing this, and what do you think the necessity is of having a journal for writers?
This is a great question! Part of this answer is also found in my answer to question #3 because craft discussions and conversations about writing often take place between individuals’ works who may not have realized they were carrying on such a conversation until they appear together in print (which is for me part of writing’s most incredibly wonderful mysteries, one of the reasons I have devoted my life to its study and perpetuation!). The necessity of having journals is that they provide an outlet for literary production that helps keep all “genres” alive and well as singular and hybridizing entities. To some degree all journals are for writers, because one presumes that writers are going to read journals containing other writers. But we market ourselves as “the journal for writers” because cross-talks and conversations between writers (often of different genres) and essays concerned with an aspect of craft make up a huge portion of each issue. We not only want to publish what writers write, but writing about how they write what they write. We find this happens by giving writers an outlet that welcomes such discussion.
Do you have an ideal reader or an ideal submitter?
My first thought here is that the ideal reader is one who enjoys the magazine so much that she/he subscribes year after year, but in the absence of this possibility, Grist’s ideal reader is one who enjoys what we publish and can take something away from something in the journal.
In a similar vein, my first thought is that the ideal submitter is one who reads the journal, is familiar with our mission and vision, and shares similar beliefs about contemporary literature (oh, and someone who follows the writers’ guidelines). But in the absence of this entire possibility, the ideal submitter is one who identifies as part of a larger conversation, who isn’t just in it for the publishing credit, who will read the journal even if their work isn’t quite right for us in a given year. In short, I suppose the ideal submitter is one who is devoted to reading, writing, and the perpetuation of literary conversation.
What advice do you have for student editors?
This is tough because everyone needs to find their way, but the editors I respect the most and whom I try to emulate are those that remain ethical in their conduct, work to perpetuate the vision and mission of their staff and publication, and who view themselves as literary enablers rather than exclusive gate-keepers.
Do you think being associated with a university an impact on your journal? How so?
Grist would not be possible without the support of the University of Tennessee’s Department of English and the graduate students who run the journal each year. We’re able to keep publishing because our department believes in the importance of the literary word and the literary conversation. Without the vibrant love for literature of all kinds that moves between our faculty and students, Grist would be, not only a different magazine all together, but wouldn’t really be Grist at all.
Read anything good lately?
Oh yes, indeed I have! I’ve been reading and re-reading all of the work that will soon be coming out in Grist: The Journal for Writers issue 6 as we move through the production process! I’ve also recently been spending a lot of time with Sir Philip Sidney, Ben Jonson, and old Ed Spenser, but on a more contemporary note Gjertud Schnackenberg, Adam Clay, Shara Lessley, Bruce Snider, and Joe Hall have been blowing my mind. Not too mention that our own Marilyn Kallet’s new book, The Love That Moves Me, will soon be out from Black Widow Press, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. And, if I’m being totally honest, Salinger’s Franny and Zooey is on my nightstand right now and I’m gearing up for my semi-yearly reading of Charles Baxter’s The Feast of Love.
How do you view the importance of literary journals in today’s changing literary landscape? How do you feel about the increase in digital reading, and do you think this will affect literary journals? Will it affect Grist?
The first part of this answer, I think, is really found in some of the other questions you’ve asked me about writing and publishing, which is to say, I think journals are in many ways the most important venue for demonstrating the vast depth of quality work being written today. I also think journals are thriving in the current literary landscape. People will often say otherwise, but I think we’ve got more journals and more readers with more ways to read than ever before. Dollars and cents aside, people are reading and people are reading a lot of journals. Digital reading is a natural extension of our use of the internet and other electronic media and while Grist won’t be going completely electronic (we still like the smell and feel of a real book too much to let it go), we are going to launch an online companion to the print volume for the first time this year, like journals such as Kenyon Review and AGNI have done.
Where do you see Grist in five years? Ten?
Right here at home in the University of Tennessee’s Department of English, thriving under the leadership of an excellent graduate students committed to the journal’s initial commitment to the writer’s occupation, and still endeavoring to articulate and frame the process through which innovative literature is conceived and brought to the page.
Christian Anton Gerard is the recipient of Pushcart Prize nominations, scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and an Academy of American Poets prize. Some of his recent poems and reviews appear or are forthcoming in The Rumpus, Redivider, The Collagist, Orion, Smartish Pace, Poetry East, Passages North, and The Journal. Gerard lives in Knoxville where he’s editor of Grist: The Journal for Writers, the Nathalia Wright Research Assistant for Early Modern Studies and an English Ph.D. candidate at the University of Tennessee.