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Passages North, Matt Weinkam (interview)

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.

How did you become interested in editing? What path led you to the position you’re in now?

I started editing working on Inklings, the undergraduate journal at Miami University where I went to college. Reading student submissions gave me a better idea of what I’m looking for in a story or poem and I always loved discussing the work with my colleagues. Since then I worked on the graduate journal at Miami, Oxford Magazine, and started an online journal called Threadcount with friends of mine. When the position at Passages opened up I was excited for the opportunity to step up to work on a nationally recognized journal of this size and stature. It’s been a wonderful experience so far.

Do you enjoy working for Passages North? Why or why not?

I love working at Passages! Who wouldn’t? We receive hundreds of submissions a month and because we only publish once a year we get to be very picky about what to include. There’s nothing like reading a story or poem from the submissions pile that just knocks you out. It might take weeks or months before something like that comes along but when it does you stop whatever else you were doing and run around the office, thrusting the story into people’s hands and demanding they read it right now. That’s the kind of work you want to publish and share with the world. And looking for that is the funnest part of the job.

In your opinion, how successful has Passages North been in accomplishing the initial goals of the journal? What is the journal attempting to accomplish now?

Passages first started in 1989, long before my time, so it’s hard to say what the initial goals of the founders were save for publishing the best work they could find. I’d say for the past thirty-five years we’ve been very successful at that main task. These days we are expanding our online presence by publishing stories, poems, and essays on our website for people to share more easily. Our Writers on Writing series is another great example of how we’re using the web to enter the conversation about literature and making great art available to more people in more places.

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

What I love most about Passages North is how experimental writers or literary theorists can find challenging and innovative work in our pages but at the same time you could hand one of our issues to anyone in your family and they would find a short short story or poem that really speaks to their experience or resonates with them.

If you don’t mind my asking, is Passages North successful financially?

We’re not a money-making venture so being financially successful is not high on our to-do list. We are lucky enough to receive funding from our university that provides for printing and shipping costs as well as the resources and space to make the journal possible and in return we do our best to bring great writing and great writers to our area. Our highest concern is attracting and publishing the best fiction, nonfiction, and poetry we can find and getting it into the hands of as many readers as possible.

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

I don’t see that at all. I think the number of high quality literary journals is growing rather than shrinking, particularly now that almost anyone can start an online journal at little to no cost. If anything there are so many high quality journals out there it is hard to know what to subscribe to. There’s not enough time to read them all. As creative writing programs continue to grow I think we’ll only see more and more journals appearing. And I think that’s a good thing.

What is your favorite book or movie and why?

It’s hard to have a favorite when there are so many great books and movies out there. I’ll give a shout out to a small book called Abbott Awaits by Chris Bachelder because I think it’s an overlooked masterpiece, one I return to again and again for the humor and insight it brings to the smallest everyday moments.

Lastly, is there anything else about Passages North that you would want us to know that I haven’t asked?

Submit your work! We love publishing emerging writers and new voices so send us something amazing!

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