Interview with Sara Watson of The Cincinnati Review

sara watsonMembers of our minnesota review staff have recently been conducting interviews with editors of lit journals we admire in order to learn more about how this kind of publishing is done in other places. As a big fan of and former volunteer reader at The Cincinnati Review, I wanted to find out more about and discuss the highlights of the journal. Sara Watson, poet and assistant editor of CR, has agreed to discuss with me the details of how the journal operates.

Sara Watson’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Southern Review, PANK, the minnesota review, Fourth River, and Harpur Palate, among others. She has been awarded two Academy of American Poetry Prizes and has recently been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She received her MFA from Chatham University and is currently pursing a PhD at the University of Cincinnati. She is assistant editor of The Cincinnati Review.

 [Awesomeness Alert: I just picked up 10.2, CR’s newest issue that begins their tenth anniversary year. I was, as usual, very impressed and particularly excited to see a poem by Melinda Wilson (pick up 10.2 and check out “Bat Skin”), whose two poems, “Happiness Equation” and “ Dance for Me You Six-Plumed Bird of Paradise,” are forthcoming in issue 83 of the minnesota review.]

Lisa Summe: What are some trends in The Cincinnati Review?

Sara Watson: We’re interested in work that surprises us, that makes us rethink our ideas about genre, that is ambitious in concept and is bold in execution. We want to represent a range of subjects from a variety of writers. We don’t want to put out the same magazine year after year.

LS: How much do cover letters and past achievement matter? Does this information affect your reading of a piece?

SW: I never read a cover letter before a submission, and afterward only as a way of getting to know a writer further. I wouldn’t want to say past achievements don’t matter; publishing is a tough world and people should be proud of what they’ve accomplished. But at CR we are only as interested in established writers as we are in emerging ones. Discovering new talent is something we’re really committed to.

LS: How do you come to a consensus about what gets published and what doesn’t?

SW: We have multiple tiers of volunteers and editors, along with a tried and true scoring system that decides what gets passed along. The volunteer system at The Cincinnati Review is quite serious–volunteers undergo a great deal of training and learn the whole process behind producing the magazine. We don’t just hand them a pile of submissions and send them off to read.

LS: Do contests boost the quality of submissions?

SW: It’s hard to say. When I read for a contest, I get a much broader view of what’s coming in–I see every poem. There are lots of poems in our general submission pile, though, that I never see. Volunteers and other editors choose to reject them or pass them up the ladder to the genre editors.

LS: What are some of your favorite journals to read?

SW: Besides The Cincinnati Review, I’m always impressed with what Black Warrior Review puts out. I’m also a big fan of PANK. You can see excerpts from their online issues to decide which pieces you’d like to read, and I like that. Their flash fiction content is especially good, I think. Ninth Letter puts out a really cool looking magazine.

LS: How has your work as an editor affected or influenced your own writing? Has working as an editor helped you in any way when sending your own work to lit journals?

SW: I don’t take rejections as personally as I once did. No matter how hard I try to be objective as a reader, at the end of the day, reading is always subjective. So a rejection means what? One or two or three people weren’t jumping up and down over my work. We reject things every day that I like very much. A journal only has so many pages.

This blog post is by Lisa Summe. Lisa earned her BA and MA in English at the University of Cincinnati and is currently an MFA candidate in poetry at Virginia Tech. Her poems have appeared in Fourth River, SWAMP, Catch Up!, Mead, and The Licking River Review. Besides reading and writing, Lisa likes birthdays and cats.


One thought on “Interview with Sara Watson of The Cincinnati Review

  1. For such a brief interview, this was remarkably informative. I wonder if other top-tier journals have a scoring system like that of CR? It seems to me a sound way to ensure that your publication consistently puts out strong work.

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