Love letter from an MFA editor

By Cat Santana

This is the end for me and the minnesota review, (tmr) blog. It’s over. Forever. As Taylor so rightly put it, “We are never ever getting back together.” The journal and this blog have been handed from the Virginia Tech graduate students over to the undergraduates, rendering this the second to last grad post by an MFA.

Full disclosure: I’m picturing a floating issue of the journal flapping a sad farewell from the other side of a canyon. I don’t know if Taylor has said that too. Has anyone? Should anyone?

I’m only a first-year MFA student, so this goodbye feels almost too quick for me. I started working on tmr last fall and this semester will be my last. When tmr was run by the graduate students, it served as one of our required classes; so even after the credits were filled, we were able to check in on the journal with the MFAs running it that semester. Which means that the older members of the program experienced three whole years of masterminding and nurturing issues of tmr; while I’m only getting a small taste.

But it’s been the best kind of taste. Full of onion layers (sweet, delicious, crispy deep fried onion layers, of course). I was excited when I received my assignment, but also terrified. I’d never worked on a literary journal before and the last time I’d done any official editing work was as co-editor of my school newspaper. In high school. Like twenty years ago. I was worried that I didn’t have enough experience and that I was possibly going to accidentally destroy a class of innocent, bright-eyed undergrads; as well as a literary journal that’s been in print since the 1960s, surviving several moves across state lines (this exposition brought to you by: in case you didn’t stop to read the blurb to the left of the screen on our homepage). But we’re now in Spring 2023 and the journal is still going strong, and I know the undergrads are still alive because they’ve signed up for another semester of working on tmr. Some of them. Not all of them. Has anyone checked on the class of Fall 2022? Recently?

Our undergrads, which from now on I’ll call our editors, leveled all their attention on our submissions and on the editing process itself. Undergrads have an absurd amount of work, but our editors “showed up and shored up,” defending and challenging whenever the situation called for it. While somehow not allowing that process to descend into one of those scenes in gladiator movies when the emperor gets tired of one-on-one combat and has multiple leather clad individuals thrown into the arena for a free-for-all. No one showed up in leather, and no one came to blows. That I know of. (I would seriously like someone to check on the class of Fall 2022).

Our dedication as editors saw us through our submission period, which gets real very quickly. I am now going to use nature metaphors to highlight the sheer, geologic scale of the amount of submissions that end up on our electronic doorstep. We received rivers that fed into oceans that brushed up against all the sand in the world, that eventually met all the grass that ever sprouted, that covered every acorn that ever erupted into a tree (redwood), that ever clustered around a hill, that ever rose up into a mountain, that ever hitched itself into a mountain range, that ever reached up and up into the sky, that ever shot into the stratosphere, that ever became one with the cosmos and had an existential crisis. That might have gone on for too long, but I thought the breadth of it deserved acknowledgment. I could have started from the core of the Earth, and then where would we be? Still at an existential crisis.

And at the same time, there was so much pleasure in combing through our submissions. It’s frightening as well, in terms of the responsibility that the authors place in us. They send their art out into the world and it’s our job to do it justice. Because of space and wordcount constraints, we can’t say yes to everyone we would like to accept. And it’s hard to turn people down when they’re vulnerable and you’re in a kind of gatekeeping position of authority over them.

But it’s also exciting to curate something when you believe in the end product, when you know that it will go out to readers who have grown to trust that they will be moved, provoked, and made to think by our journal. And it was incredible whenever I found a piece that I felt particularly passionate about. I felt almost a kind of pride in the author and grateful that I was allowed some small part in helping their voice get out into the world. People deserve to be heard, many have things that should be heard by everyone; but sometimes bigger publishing houses aren’t able to give them a platform. That’s something that literary journals like tmr endeavor to do, and it’s something worth doing. I’ve tried to be funny about how many submissions we get, but really, we’re deeply grateful for every author and every piece.

Last semester, our tmr community met every Tuesday and Thursday for an hour and fifteen minutes. We read each other’s notes on the submissions and entered into conversation with each other about which choices we agreed with and which we weren’t sure about. Sort of like a mid-to late nineties AOL chatroom for literary journal nerds. In those bygone 90s chatrooms, a myriad of individuals (happy and possibly lonely nerds) would for better or worse find their people. Over music, television, Leonardo DiCaprio/Kate Winslet/queerness, political alignments, Pokémon cards, and Bébés de Beanie. Editing a Literary Journal isn’t a required class, we gathered in that room because we wanted to be in the room. It could have been a precarious place. Editors defend submissions because they feel personal connections to them, are moved, or because they feel the piece could benefit our journal. And when you care, you’re vulnerable. As I mentioned earlier in this post, we were lucky enough to have people in the room who were diligently respectful of their fellow editor’s opinions. We could be real with each other, and we could be gentle too. A rare thing. And this semester we were promised pizza.

So, I’m sad that after this spring, I don’t get to continue the tmr experience, but I’m not worried, because I’ve seen the caliber of our (surviving) undergraduate editors. I know how discerning they are and how much love they have for literary journals and the editing world. They know that they’re taking part in something that’s worth doing. I know that our readers are in good hands. 

That issue of the floating journal is still flapping goodbye to the graduate students in my head, but it’s also flapping a hello to its new editors. Yes, I know that that is a horrible, sappy, and maybe even grotesque metaphor, but this is my first and last blog post for the minnesota review and so it’s what I’m putting down. If anything, I deserve a thank you because I wanted to say that the journal was trying to flap them a hello hug—which seems much worse. So, you’re welcome for my service.


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