I recently had the chance to interview Sophia Kartsonis, the editor for Botticelli Magazine. Botticelli Magazine is an online literary and arts journal published through the Columbus College of Art & Design (CCAD). Similar to how things work here at the minnesota review, submissions to Botticelli are read by students of CCAD. Sophia shared her life hacks for soothing the soul, paying artists in beauty, and honoring diversity in every way possible.
EMILY WALTERS: What led you to working with Botticelli?
SOPHIA KARTSONIS: When hired at Columbus College of Art & Design (CCAD), I was told that the school’s magazine had been a labor of love for a (now late) professor emeritus. Because I had previously worked on the editorial staffs of various journals (Black Warrior Review, Quarterly West, etc.), I was asked if I would be interested in trying to re/vive/invent it. When it began, there was no class to coincide, so a few very talented, efficient and very patient students would help me to put together an online version of the journal (Sean Blanton, Kate Rhoades, I am still in your debt). After a few issues/years, we were able to get a course approved with the sole purpose of producing the journal and organizing events relating to it.
EW: What do you find to be your favorite aspect of the magazine? What makes it unique?
SK: My students’ vision: fresh, metamorphosing. As art students, their natural inclination is to veer away from cliché. Their hides are thick, as they are accustomed to the tough critiques in their other classes. And how can I help but love the way that they make each page of the journal delicious to the eye?
EW: How do you approach the “first round” of reading when it comes to the slush pile? Do you have a “this is fine” pile? What do you look for in that first reading?
SK: First round: every literary staff member ranks the work yes, no, maybe. Next round, we debate. I truly let them mostly guide the decisions. I have a very limited “un-veto” power that I employ rarely and judiciously.
EW: Do you have a ritual/routine/life-hack in order to keep your soul alive when trudging through that slush pile of not-so-great writing? What is it?
SK: I try to remind myself of two things: 1. Melanie Rae Thon used to say “be kind to the writer you once were” and 2. I am one reader. What doesn’t sing for me might be different for the writer or next reader.
But that’s not quite what you asked. My soul struggles when I see writing that is tone deaf and tone deaf often on purpose. Mean-spirited writing really leaves me cold whether it’s coming from the slush pile, the classroom, or the news. I palate-cleanse through art, music, or other writing. I read something that I love or something that I think I might love. I watch some excellent movie or television (lately, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Search Party, Durrells in Corfu, or my various murder shows, from Forensic Files to my favorite: A Crime to Remember). In these various ways, I water the wilting leaves of my soul when needed.
EW: Do you delineate between different issues when reading submissions?
We read year-round, but yes, we are often pulling from the work received between issues.
Interestingly, this particular semester we are assembling our first themed issue, and looking particularly to work that has a connection, be it thematic or author/artist’s geographical connection to the state of Ohio.
EW: How do you handle or think about issues of diversity?
SK: We attempt to honor it in every way that we are given the opportunity to do so and are always looking for more ways to showcase diversity of contributors as well as of varieties of genre, hybridity, and inclusivity.
EW: Do you do anything to ensure a diverse pool of authors?
SK: We attempt to solicit far and wide. CCAD itself is fortunate to really encourage diversity and to have a fairly diverse student population.
EW: How much does length impact your opinion of a piece and acceptance/rejection rates?
SK: I think that a very long piece of writing must necessarily earn its keep, so to speak. Meaning: if we take a very long story, interview, or sequence, we are giving one artist the space of several. I am happy to do that, but it will need to be exceptional. That said, we welcome longer pieces for consideration.
EW: How and where do you solicit for submissions? What’s been effective in getting quality submissions, rather than just volume?
SK: Social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., as well as fliers on campus and students soliciting work from classes and friends at other schools. I will leave some Botticelli fliers and issues around at the Associate Writing Programs conference (AWP) while I attend it this year.
EW: How do you approach a writer when you want them to make edits to their piece?
SK: We email suggested changes. We don’t do it often. Honestly, it takes a great deal of effort to get the tone and suggested edits to sound hopeful and uncondescending. There is the worry that it will not be received well. Sometimes, we love the potential in a piece, and therefore, have to try. It can be thankless, but many times, the writers are happy to consider revisions. I love it when it work. Just recently when offering contingency edits on a particular piece, we were shot down. We were happy to have tried. Depending on how much we liked what was there, we would try again.
EW: How long do pieces take from acceptance to publication at Botticelli?
We try for a four month turn-around. Given the academic semester, it’s easy, assuming I am not on sabbatical or the course does not fail to make enrollment numbers. Then there would be a lag period, and if it bridges the summer, that can add several months.
EW: Do you pay your authors? Do you charge a reading fee?
SK: That would be the dream. Someday. For now, we pay them in beauty. Given the world, not a bad thing to accrue. No reading fee. Just beauty.
Sophia Kartsonis is a professor at CCAD who teaches contemporary literature, poetry writing, fiction writing, Greek studies, and ekphrasis. Her book Intaglio was published in 2006 and won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize. Several of her poems have been featured on Verse Daily, including “Pinocchio’s Elegy for the Unreal,” from her collection The Rub published in December 2014. Dr. Kartsonis also collaborates with Katherine Write on a blog called “Sweety Disturbed” and is the recipient of the 2012 Teaching Excellence Award.
Emily Walters is an MA student in the English Department and social media editor for the minnesota review.