Story, Travis Kurowski
“Story is a double-sided, biannual magazine devoted to the complex and diverse world of narrative. The editors are not only interested in short fiction, but instead innovative, human stories in any shape or form and from as diverse a population as possible—mathematics, narrative poetry, musical notation, graphic design, you name it. We are also very much interested in research, essays, and interviews about how stories work to define and complicate our world.” Each issue of Story focuses on a different theme like Technology, Monsters, Climate Change, Migration, etc. It is based in York, Pennsylvania. On their website, they publish fiction, poetry, and interviews. Interview with Travis Kurowski, Editor of Story.
When and how did you become interested in editing?
Probably after picking up my first issue of The Paris Review in college at Southern Oregon University. Even before that I worked as a student fiction reader for West Wind Review, the national literary journal SOU produced (still produces)—but the work didn’t click with me then for some reason. But after getting hooked on The Paris Review and lit mags in general, I just wanted to be a part of that magic in every way possible. Sending my writing to these journals hoping to get published wasn’t enough. I wanted to know more about what happened behind the curtain. After college, while working at a restaurant in Portland, Oregon named Besaw’s Café, I met Win McCormack, the founding publisher of Tin House. He came down every once and awhile for lunch and I would chat with him. Eventually we got on the subject of books and I learned about Tin House. Before I knew it I was interning at Tin House—and the world of editing exploded. I found out quickly it was much more complicated, and much more awesome, than I’d imagined. I’ve been involved in editing/publishing to a greater or lesser degree ever since.
What led you to start Story? Can you talk a little bit about the process of starting a magazine?
I’d been batting around the idea of starting a publication under the name of Story ever since graduate school, sometime in early 2008, when I noticed that the trademark had expired on the name. I noticed that we had this great—still have this great—publication called Poetry devoted to poetry, how we use language art, but we didn’t have anything for how we told stories. For story, which seems, like language itself, so central to the human experience. I wanted that. But it was just an idea until I got to York College and talked with my colleagues on campus about what a national literary magazine would offer our students and the wider college community—it would fill the college mission to be a “cultural resource.” We got to work on the idea slowly over the past two years, developing our advisory board and branding, and a grant from the Glatfelter Family Foundation a year ago allowed us to hire some students and put some of these ideas into motion. It’s of course a lot of work starting a publication—and honestly we are still getting around to a lot of it—but we’ve successfully established our brand, got our first issue out, began developing a web presence, accumulating a subscriber list, and building our distribution. Literary publishing is slow, especially when attached with the academy—but the learning experience our student workers are getting helping us build this magazine from the ground up can’t be beat.
As editor, what are your duties?
We’re a masthead of overlapping duties, and the student editorial assistants get to assist with much of the process. But as editor I make the final editorial decisions for the print publication (Vito Grippi takes on this role for online material), and I make sure everything works well behind the scenes—from marketing to proofreading—to make sure we are doing our best to represent the needs of our authors/artists and our readers. We’re a small staff, so there’s nothing regarding the magazine I’m not involved in somehow.
The first issue of Story just launched at AWP in Seattle. What plans do you have for the magazine in the future?
Right now, we’re wrapping up editorial for the second issue of the publication—our “monsters” issue—which will then be sent to the printer, and we’ve already begun reading and accepting work for the third issue, our “migration” issue. Vito Grippi is also working on the roll out of some online publishing for Story. And we’re constantly working to get into more bookstores, get more reviews, and so forth—essentially get this fantastic content to readers. We’ll be at AWP in 2015 in Minneapolis, and if everything goes right we’ll have the migrations issue ready for everyone. Our master plan? Publish themed-issues that will knock readers hair back and get all of our student assistants jobs in editing and publishing when they graduate. I’m increasingly impressed by how talented and driven they are. We wouldn’t have done this well and this much without Ashli MacKenzie and Tracy Chopek last year, and I’m already amazed by our new editorial assistants Sarah Walsh and Juliana Lyon—not to mention our first intern, Dani Elizando, who found some great work for the migration issue just this afternoon that I’m looking forward to checking out.
Each issue of the magazine has a theme, such as migration, climate change, technology, etc. How do you choose these themes?
We choose the themes in various ways, vetting them often with our student editorial assistants; not only are they smart, but it’s a great asset to have some younger people around to bounce ideas off of. We chose monsters because Stephen Asma gave a standing room only lecture on the subject at the college a few years back, and it seems of continual interest to readers. Printed stories in many ways began with monsters, with the Epic of Gilgamesh, so we thought it made sense for us to begin there as well. (Our first issue was deliberately un-themed.) Migration, Climate Change, and Technology simply seemed of greatest interest to society, so we wanted to make issues that would look at how we told and experienced stories around these subjects.
After you receive submissions, how does the selection process progress?
We use Submittable, which has a very user-friendly back end that allows us to insert commentary and begin digital discussions about submissions, and to track our reading history of each piece. We currently have student editorial assistants and editors (Vito Grippi and myself—and newly added editor Ryan Britt) who read through the submissions. I read through all the submissions currently, considering all the commentary of the other readers. We will soon be adding “readers” to the process, as is common among literary magazines. As we diversify our masthead, the reading process will similarly diversify. But I’ll still read every submission that comes in for the print publication, to keep up standards and expectations for Story, and very soon Vito Grippi will be doing the same for work submitted or considered for online.
I noticed on your website that Story is available in print and as an eBook. What are the pros and cons of publishing in multiple formats?
Accessibility and ease of use, for readers. For publishers, the print object allows us to do things that we can’t with the digital object—such as offer a double-sided reading experience. Maybe as we learn more about the production of e-books, we will become more creative there as well, but currently the e-book is a finely edited and cleanly designed copy of the print publication.
Which other literary magazines inspire you? Have these magazines influenced Story in any way?
Our designer Gabriel Dunmire was inspired by the amazing design work at The Believer, Creative Nonfiction, and Make (over in Chicago). As for Story editorially? It’s been influenced by more literary magazines than I can even begin to mention. I’ve been reading a diverse and wide-ranging number of these magazines for nearly a decade now, and have been influenced by magazines as small as Birkensnake to as large as Lapham’s Quarterly. But I suppose two lit mags stand out in their influence: the 1990s run of Story edited by Lois Rosenthal, and the entire history of The Paris Review, under multiple editors. Rosenthal’s publication because it was probably the best—and most enthusiastic—recent venue for stories, and The Paris Review because it brought me to this place, and I continue—now under editor Lorin Stein—to be influenced by the amazing work they do. (We were also much inspired by non “literary” magazines, such as Harper’s and Esquire and such. We looked at them to see how they imagined/created reading experiences.)
Do you have any advice for aspiring student editors?
Read a lot, and start to pay attention to the bones of what you’re reading: the object itself, the company/people that produced it, the many hands working behind it. Read acknowledgment
pages. Read copyright pages. Read The Paris Review interviews with editors. Research literary magazine history—so you can understand the whys more, see what’s been done before, and begin to innovate on your own. Changes in technology have created what seems an exciting time to move into editing and publishing—but it’s also a more complex time. There’s a lot out there to know, but there are also so many possibilities in this new era. (Oh—and read John Thompson’s Merchants of Culture. Should clear a lot up.)