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The Kenyan Review, Zach Savich

The Kenyon Review editor, Zach Savich, talks with FUSE about editing and publishing. The Kenyon Review is a prestigious magazine, both because of the excellent standard of literature it publishes–it has recently been ranked 3rd for poetry and 9th for fiction by Pushcart Prize Literary Magazine Ranking–and for it’s long life–it was founded in 1939. It is backed by Kenyon College in Gamble, Ohio and publishes poetry, fiction, non-fiction and book reviews. It supports writers not only by finding new voices, but also by hosting a reading series, a literary festival, and writer workshops, both for adults and students. They have a lively and intelligent blog that has guest authors and staff write about literature and writing.

How did you receive your position with the Kenyon Review? Were there particular experiences that you think most prepared you for the position you have now?

I serve as Book Reviews Editor for The Kenyon Review, along with Kascha Semonovitch and Daniel Torday. We each assign and edit between twelve and twenty reviews a year. I’ve been proud of the lucid, thoughtful reviews we’ve published. We bring good attention to books that readers might otherwise miss, and we offer fresh takes on books that are discussed elsewhere. These reviews are a lively part of the content you can find each month in The Kenyon Review Online. I also serve as a Consulting Editor, reading general submissions to the magazine.

From 2008 to 2010, I wrote about one book review each month for publications including Boston Review, Denver Quarterly, Pleiades, and Poetry Northwest. I wanted to slow down my reading and, having had luck with my own poetry, I wanted to contribute to the discussion of the books I love, many of which receive little critical attention. KR accepted several of these reviews and, in the summer of 2010, invited me to join as an editor. I have previously served as an assistant editor with The Iowa Review, an editorial intern with The Massachusetts Review, and a founding editor of Thermos, a deliberately and joyfully small scale poetry magazine. I’m very happy to now be a part of KR.

How much time do you spend working on the Kenyon Review? Do you ever have duties one might not expect going into this position?

We hope our book reviews are well-crafted and engaging, and we typically work with reviewers on several drafts of each piece. We value good writing more than we value the senseless timeliness of a media cycle, so we can correspond about edits for as long as we need to. This process is one of the chief pleasures in my life: I get to email with dozens of interesting, intelligent reviewers each year, discussing recent books and the best ways to write about them. The book reviews you’ll see at KROnline, such as by Anna Journey on Eduardo C. Corral or by Dilruba Ahmed on C. Dale Young or by Eric Weinstein on Jennifer Denrow, show the caring work of a reviewer, at least two editors, and KR’s production and design staff.

While reading books for review or submissions for a journal, how much do you need to read before you can consider it to be unsuccessful? Are there circumstances during the reviewing of submissions where a submitter or a work is in danger of being disrespected?

Like most editors, I read hoping to be surprised, hoping to fall in love, humbled by the time writers take to send pieces in which they’ve tried to say something that matters in a distinct and accomplished way. I stay mindful of the respect this shows the magazine, the faith it shows in our process, and the heartening liveliness this shows regarding contemporary writing. Though most pieces will be declined, many have moments that I read aloud to myself, phrases that stay with me, ideas that make me excited to see the writer’s next submission.

Follow each magazine’s submission guidelines, don’t be unfriendly or unprofessional, understand that editors are often also writers, working hard to support contemporary literature, and your work shouldn’t be disrespected. Become involved as an editor of a magazine yourself, and you’ll understand this process more.

For the Kenyon Review you write book reviews. What do you think a review should do? Who or what do you keep in mind the most while writing one, the readers of the journal, the author, or the work itself?