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The Fourth River, Valentine Sargent (Interview)

Interviewed by Kara Boub


The Fourth River is the literary journal of Chatham University’s MFA Program. They accept submissions of creative writing that explore the relationship between humans and their environments, both natural and built, urban, rural or wild. They look for writing that is richly situated at the confluence of place, space and identity, or that reflects upon or makes use of landscape and place in new ways. Valentine Sargent is the Managing Editor of The Fourth River. Visit the summer 2021 issue online here:

When did you know publishing & editing was your field of interest?

Personally, I knew I had an enjoyment for editing when I found myself reading everything - books, advertisements, brochures, pamphlets - and found myself making corrections, realizing an article or a comma was missing, thinking of the syntax in different ways. I like to think of editing a piece as working on a garden plot. From a distant perspective it looks like there are bustling green leaves, buds and blossoms; it looks good. When we get a little closer then we see the weeds, the need for pruning, the sticks scattered around in the soil. The best part is cleaning up, taking a step back and noting that it looks just a little bit cleaner, maybe healthier, than before.

Publishing is the best part. Here at The Fourth River we have the wonderful opportunity of uplifting emerging and established writers on our website or nestled within our print issues. Good writing educates readers and ultimately makes them feel a certain way. Writing is an act of resistance. For our literary journal to be a vessel for impactful writing is such an exciting endeavor to take on, especially with the many topics that need to be addressed and are easily digested by readers with patient and open eyes.

What is involved in the day ins and outs at The Fourth River as Managing Editor?

Day in, day out there's a lot of emails. As Managing Editor I manage our email account and note any updates on our Submittable, contributors who are working on book projects, and any miscellaneous correspondence that needs my attention. On Submittable I decline and accept pieces (arguably one of the most difficult tasks). Here at TFR, we read all the submissions that come in, separating them into weekly blocks for volunteer readers to read through and comment on. Every semester we are always a step ahead as we read for the new issue while we work on putting the current issue together either online or bounded together in a print issue.

The journal publishes work that explores the relationship between humans & their environments. Do submissions need to emphasize nature or can any work that shows characters interacting in the setting be considered?

The Fourth River is interested in writing that focuses on the confluence of place, space, and identity. How does one interact with the place they are in? How do they move within that space? We are very interested in how place and landscape can be reflected upon or made use of in different and interesting ways. The writing does not always have to be nature-based.

What do you look for when selecting works from the submission pile? How do you distinguish between work that fits The Fourth River’s mission and “good work” that would fit another publication?

The most important aspect of a piece when we consider for publication is if it hits our theme of identity and place. Often there is a fantastic piece, but it doesn't fit with our mission as a journal. Our readers are the first to decide if a piece is right to send up to our genre editors. Then the genre editors are the ones to decide if it will be accepted or not.

What does the press consider to be its greatest successes? What do you consider to be your greatest successes?

The Fourth River's greatest achievements may be the community we curate with our contributors and readers. We do our best to support our writers and uplift them and their work on our various social media platforms. I'm very excited about our weekly online publication, Tributaries, which is free to submit to and is edited by a different guest editor each term. The current theme for Tributaries is "Heritage Lands" focusing on the soil's story and how family, identity, and the land intersect. Our guest editor is Cedric Rudolph, a talented Chatham alum.

What is most challenging for you about the managing editor role?

I think the most challenging part of the role is realizing that I am the glue of the journal. I ensure everything is running smoothly, as it should be. This requires keeping an eye on our email and a lot of organizing on my part. This is also the most rewarding. When our readers share the new issue, I feel the excitement of our contributors as their wonderful pieces are available to the world!

How does the process differ from releasing prior print issues versus the digital version of the journal?

Online versus print is a radically different process. Online issues require a lot of formatting, organizing, and working within Squarespace's platform. I choose the photos that work best for the online issue, as well as the photos that correspond to each piece. It's a lot of small details that make a big difference! For print issues we work with a designer, who is an alum of Chatham University, and a printing press based out of Pittsburgh. There's more preparation due to a lot more players involved in the making of a print issue. Whether online or in print, there's a lot of email communication between contributors for copy editing and ensuring we have all author materials (think author bios) before we ready ourselves to publish a new issue.


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