Walking Through Doors: An Interview with Editor Wayne Miller

 

As I ponder how best to utilize my Master’s degree in Literature at the end of my time in graduate school, editing is a direction I often consider. Speaking with Wayne Miller, Managing Editor of Copper Nickel, was particularly encouraging as he graciously shared his experience leading up to this position. Miller, having received his degrees from Oberlin College and University of Houston, is a poet, translator, and co-editor in addition to editing. His responses to the following questions display how his experiences as a writer and editor have helped shape Copper Nickel. This particular literary journal has a unique, personal history and, with Miller’s influence, is geared up for just as interesting of a future.

Anna Harjung (AH): As managing editor, what are your specific responsibilities for the journal?

Wayne Miller (WM): I basically do a lot here. My title is Editor/Managing Editor because I’m also involved in content. Copper Nickel has a lot of undergrads who work in volunteer capacity; we use the journal in a class and we have a couple grad students working on it. I have meetings with them twice a week and we all manage the slush pile. I edit poetry with Brian Barker and Nicky Beer, and then I’m also a second editor of non-fiction along with Joanna Luloff. She makes a lot of decisions, but anything that has to do with poetry or that she’s unsure of, we talk about.

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I also do all the layout, I solicit the artwork, and I handle all the contracts. All of that managerial work I do as well. I manage our budget. Half of my teaching time is released for Copper Nickel, so all of that administrative stuff, like budgeting and layout, all of that is the work that is compensated with released time.

 

AH: In addition to editing, what subject or class are you currently teaching at University of Colorado Denver?

WM: Most spring semesters I teach an editing class and the students are involved in editing Copper Nickel. The stuents read a variety of essays and interview other editors, so the class is a kind of inductive lens into the world of literary editing. In the fall I teach a variety of classes, including a translation workshop, introduction to creative writing, and this fall I’m teaching a 4000 level poetry workshop.

AH: What drew you to teaching and editing in the first place?

WM: To some degree it was sort of luck and expediency. When I was poetry student in my MFA program, I was dating someone who was a poetry editor at Gulf Coast. I started going to the poetry meetings because I was kind of curious. The following semester they asked me to join, and though I had never considered editing as something I wanted to do, it seemed interesting and I had decided in Grad school to I walk through any doors that were in front of me and take any opportunities available to me. This seemed like an interesting one.

While I was doing that, I became friends with the head editor of Gulf Coast, Pablo Peschiera. Pablo asked me to be the associate editor, and that’s where I learned a lot of the inside stuff beyond simply making editorial decisions about poetry. That year they did AWP in New Orleans. Pablo was supposed to go to a tutorial on managing workflow, or how managers move through a submission process. Pablo couldn’t go so he asked me to go for him.

That spring I finished my MFA and I got hired to be a Visiting Professor at University of Central Missouri. Part of job was to be a poetry editor of Pleiades, and it had just gotten big enough at that point that it needed some ideas to help manage workflow. Weirdly, that AWP tutorial made me seem really valuable.

At the end of the year I was hired, so that’s how I ended up teaching and editing. I was an editor at Pleiades for 8 years and then the head editor for 4 more years. In 2014 I was hired here in Colorado to take over Copper Nickel and be the head editor here. My job life has been really influenced and fostered by work as an editor.

AH: What makes Copper Nickel unique or different from other literary journals?

WM: Our plan here is to not overgrow. We want to do what we do really well and not do more than we can do well. Copper Nickel was started in 2002 by the poet Jake Adam York as an internal magazine, so it was really student run. Very quickly they started soliciting work from outside the University, so then the idea was to feature student work alongside national writers. It continued to grow until it was almost exclusively national writers, and in 2012 it was hitting national level. Then, tragically, Jake died of a heart attack at 40.

The University had been putting pressure on the Creative Writing program to create a PhD. The argument was that we had a really good faculty. When Jake died, rather than starting a PhD, the faculty argued that the thing to do was to put good support for the first time into Copper Nickel. I was hired with a course to teach each semester and the amount of money going into Copper Nickel went up a little bit. We’ve been growing since 2014.

AH: What do you enjoy most about editing for Copper Nickel?

WM: Different things. There are a lot of people who spend time championing writers they love on social media. I think that’s great. I love the idea, but I have a cautious personality and I don’t want to champion something if I haven’t lived with it for a while. For me, then, part of what I really love about editing a journal is that I get to champion work I love while also trusting that vetting process so I don’t feel that I’m championing willy-nilly.

I love, over time, building a little community of writers whose work sometimes you can discover really early on. Over time you accumulate these people who will be discovered or who you discover late, and you get to champion their work and build an audience for them.

I love working with the students at Copper Nickel; our students are really smart. I really like having regular meetings with them to talk about work and they are eager to learn how to evaluate fiction. It’s fun to see them grow as editors in a very short time.

AH: Do you have any advice for students who aspire to be writers or editors?

If you want to be a writer, you have to submit work. Submit before you’re ready, so you get used to being rejected regularly, and then it doesn’t sting when you are rejected. When work comes back to you rejected, revisit it. Don’t just put it away because it got rejected for a reason. Revisit it and make sure it’s right and that the story is the way it should be. Part of what’s great about submitting is that it forces you to step away from the work while it’s being considered, and then you can look at it with a fresh eye when it comes back to you.

For editing, in my experience, the best thing I did was to try to do everything and get a sense of whether or not it would interest me. So, if you have the opportunity to work on a journal, do it. If you have the opportunity to go give a reading somewhere, do it, even if you’re terrified. I just feel like so many weird doors open, and who knows what is actually going to make you money. It probably isn’t going to be being a professor at this point because that job market is so bad, so it’s going to be one of ten dozen other things. Keep walking through doors and just see what’s in that room.

 

Anna Harjung is the blog editor for the minnesota review, and as a Literature student, she is reading her way through her first year of graduate school.

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