Passages North, Jennifer Howard

Passages North is an annual literary magazine based in at Northern Michigan University. It has been around for about 35 years. Passages North accepts fiction, nonfiction, poetry, hybrid essays, and short-shorts, as well as spoken-word poetry published on the website. They have a section on their website called the Writers on Writing Series, where anyone can contribute short essays about the process of writing. Current and old issues can be purchased on the site.

Interview with Jennifer Howard, Editor-in-Chief at Passages North
Conducted by Priscilla Huertas, Susquehanna ’17

How did Passages North get started?

PN was started in 1979 at Bay de Noc Community College in Escanaba, Michigan, a town about an hour south of here on Lake Michigan. Then, it was printed on newspaper, would get your hands dirty with ink when you read it. In the early 90s, it spent some years at Kalamazoo College, and then maybe 15 years ago made its way back to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to Northern Michigan University, on the Lake Superior part of the peninsula.

How has Passages North evolved since the start?

We get to print a fat 300-page perfect-bound issue these days. And while our ties to the Midwest and to the Upper Peninsula in particular are still important to us, I do think we’re less of a regional publication these days. The sheer amount of work we can publish in each issue makes us necessarily more eclectic, lets us cover more ground, makes room for the weird as well as the beautiful.

Where do you see Passages North in the future?

Since we can print only one issue a year, a lot of our progress comes in terms of our website: more frequent online bonus content, our regular Writers on Writers series, interviews and book reviews. And look out for a new logo soon; it might involve a rocketship.

Can you talk a bit about the submission process? What is taken into consideration when looking at each piece and is it a long process for a piece to be chosen?

Running a university-based magazine is always a balance between being efficient and being democratic. We’ve got a large staff of readers and editors, and it takes time to make room for all that input, and yet we want to be fair to writers too, to be timely with our responses. Different genres handle submissions differently. The poets gather in a room and project submissions onto the wall, talking and making decisions together. It’s harder to read the prose that way, so fiction and nonfiction editors tend to do more reading and commenting online, coming together to talk about short lists of favorites.

What do you think the general audience is for Passages North?

I suspect writers, poets, essayists, studiers of literary magazines, people who like bear art on their covers.

What’s your favorite part about working for Passages North?

PN work is my favorite part of my job. Reading short-short submissions should technically be nearer the bottom of my list priority wise many days, but often it’s the first thing I do. Getting to say yes to a story is a pretty nice feeling

Do you have any advice for undergraduate editors?

Volunteer your time reading for a magazine. Just getting a sense of the kind of story or poem or essay that gets turned down is invaluable. A lot of the time, work is rejected simply because it’s not surprising or unusual, because it’s the same old story or poem an editor has seen over and over. Getting to know what is overdone is important.

One of the major issues we discuss today is the impending “death” of literary magazines. What’s your opinion on this?

I’m not worried about lit mags disappearing at all. Editing a magazine is good work. Getting to showcase writers is joyous business. People will keep on.

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