West 10th, Becca Stevenson (Interview)
Interviewed by Selena Perez
West 10th is the NYU Creative Writing Program’s Undergraduate Literary Journal. The editorial board is comprised of students who convene to edit, curate, and produce a yearly issue of poetry, prose, and art that is rich in unique ideas and cultures. West 10th positions itself as a place of community and belonging both in their organizational endeavors and in the contents of their publication. By welcoming such a vast range of perspectives to dance alongside each other across the pages of the journal, West 10th creates a tapestry of narratives that illuminate the essence of New York City. In this interview, I speak with the Editor-In-Chief, Becca Stevenson, on the philosophy of the publication, as well as her personal experience in this position.
Selena: What initially drew you to the idea of working with literature from the editorial side of things? Moreover, how has the experience affected your own writing?
Becca: I was drawn to the editorial side of things because I like literature and I like people, and as a sophomore in college, becoming an editor was the only thing I knew of that combined those two interests. To my knowledge, there still isn’t any organization at NYU that involves asking a lot of smart people to send you their writing, reading it, and then sitting in a room to discuss it with a separate group of equally smart people (usually over snacks). I’m still pretty amazed that I ever got to be part of a process like that at all, much less for three years.
The experience has affected my writing in two ways, mainly. By reading a lot, I think you sort of naturally become a better writer, so that’s happened to me (I hope)! But the judging process has had a more dramatic impact on the way I write, in that I’m less insecure and more willing to write weirdly. I’ve now witnessed too many times another editor giving impassioned praise to a piece I couldn’t care less about, or vice versa, to really care that someone might not like the content of what I write.
Selena: As the Editor-In-Chief, what are some of your tasks and responsibilities? Which of these makes the job the most enjoyable or meaningful for you?
Becca: Well, the most important thing for me to get done as Editor-in-Chief is to make sure that by the end of February, there is an issue full of good prose, poetry, and art, ready to be sent to printers. In order to do that, I need to make sure that an editorial board is hired in September, that our web team announces a call for submissions in October, that our prose, poetry, and art editors meet to discuss submissions in January, that I read all these submissions and judge them, and that our copy editors go over all the selected pieces by the end of February. This is a good deal to keep track of, but if you have a great Managing Editor like I do (Alexandra Bentzien!), then it’s not so bad, because she does (at least) half the work.
I really do enjoy the entire production process, and I find the management of a magazine to be pretty thrilling overall. But I’ve found that the most meaningful part of being Editor-in-Chief has been the events and collaborations. This past year, for the first time, West 10th has had an event team, and they’ve been incredible. We had two open mics last semester, one in collaboration with TedxNYU. This semester, one of our poetry editors pioneered Poetry on Demand at Bobst Library and we’re doing a literary outing to one of Pen America’s World Voices Festival events. We also just had our launch party for the 2022-2023 issue! And there’s another event hosted with the Grey Art Gallery on Tuesday! This is what I love. I love the flurry of events and the coordination of schedules and I love being part of something that brings people together, all in one room, in celebration of art and love of literature. This is the most meaningful thing in my whole life. This is what moves me.
Selena: Many undergraduate journals publish on a quarterly or semesterly timeline, while West 10th publishes a yearly issue. Could you tell me a bit about why the publication is annual and how you think this affects the overall product?
Becca: I think publishing on a yearly basis is what allows West 10th to be a literary community rather than just a literary journal. Since our editorial board isn’t always knee-deep in the production process, we have time to organize events like the ones I’ve described above. We have time to meet the creatives in our community, to scout them, to ask them to submit. This allows both our editors and our contributors to participate in a networking process which, like it or not, is a vital aspect of literary careers. And, more importantly, it allows for community, which is a vital aspect of being human.
Selena: With a name like West 10th, it’s clear that NYC culture is a focal point for the culture of the journal. What role do you think location plays in the type/style of art and literature the journal puts out?
Becca: Oh, a huge role. Not because most of the art and literature we put out features New York (in fact, it rarely does), but because it seems to feature every other place in the world. The two prose pieces in West 10th’s latest issue are a great example. One is about a tree in the writer’s suburban, American hometown. The other is about throwing infants into wells in China. That range, that dichotomy, that globality, that’s New York. There’s a place for so many different types of people in New York, which is why there’s a place for so many different types of stories in West 10th.
Selena: When researching for this interview, I realized that the website does not outwardly state the mission of the publication, or describe any ideals that it stands for. I think identity is a really central part of a journal’s existence. From your perspective, what is West 10th’s philosophy?
Becca: I think West 10th’s philosophy changes from editorial board to editorial board, and I find this flexibility pretty magical. But from my perspective, West 10th’s job is to make people realize that they are connected to something beyond themselves, and to make them realize they are not alone. That’s what I think all good art does.
Selena: As I’m sure you receive plenty of submissions, it must be difficult to make decisions on which pieces will be accepted, given that art is so subjective. What are some of the main qualities that your editors look for during the reviewing process?
Becca: Again, this changes from year to year, but I noted that in this past issue, our editors were looking for depth over scope. There were a lot of issues that were trying to tackle big issues (like, say, the patriarchy and mortality and veganism and motherhood) all at once. Because they were writing towards so many ideas at once, they weren’t able to really delve into any of them. The pieces that dwelled on and scrutinized just one or two ideas (like, say, racism and the passage of time) were more appealing to our editors.
Selena: What are some themes or traits that make this publication unique, and set it apart from other undergraduate literary journals?
Becca: When I think of what makes West 10th unique, I think of our editorial board and our student contributors. To me, they are two groups of truly special, brilliant people. They have teeming lives and imaginations and are generous enough to share both with West 10th, which is how we end up with studies of Urdu poetry translation in our publications and events that feature our poetry editors interviewing passersby and mailing them the poems they inspire. I don’t think I’m good enough of a writer to summarize all the ways in which they set West 10th apart, so I will just point you to them and tell you they are wonderful.
Selena: How would you say the experience of working on this journal has impacted your career? Has it presented you with newfound skills or opportunities? What are some of the next steps for you?
Becca: The impact of working on this journal has been far greater than I anticipated, both personally and professionally. For one, it’s helped me get an internship at a literary agency, Writers House, which was transformative and invaluable. Next step-wise, working on West 10th and finding so much joy in coordinating events has led me to pursue a career in publishing publicity. And above all, like great art, working on this journal has made me realize that I am part of something beyond myself, and that I am not alone.