On an evening in late April, the UConn Bookstore in downtown Storrs was packed with students, faculty, writers, and alumni. People in the back stood among the bookshelves. The audience was quiet, listening attentively to authors reading their published pieces, copies of the neon orange 2017 Long River Review in their hands.
The event was a celebration of a year’s worth of hard work by the publication’s undergraduate staff, which each year produces the student-run magazine featuring original works of fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, translations, and artwork by UConn students, members of the community, and for the first time ever, writers outside of UConn.
But unlike previous release parties, the evening also celebrated the magazine’s legacy and marked a significant milestone: The 20th anniversary of a publication that had come to mean so much to the students who prepare it.
“There’s no substitute for what I’ve learned producing the Long River Review,” says Stephanie Koo ’17 (CLAS), the 2017 edition’s editor-in-chief. “We have one annual publication that we work hard on for a whole semester, and it’s really cool to have a hard copy to hold in our hands.”
The Long River Review’s roots at UConn stretch back to 1983 with the establishment of the publication’s predecessor, Writing UConn. This journal was funded by the English department and distributed across the state through the Connecticut Writing Project, a professional development network with the goal of improving student achievement by improving the teaching of writing and learning in schools.
In 1998, the journal was transformed into a student-focused literary magazine by three faculty advisors: author Leslie Brody ’93 Ph.D., who joined the UConn faculty after earning her doctorate in English; acclaimed author Wally Lamb ’72 (CLAS), ’77 MA; and Emeritus Professor of English and former Connecticut Poet Laureate Marilyn Nelson.
Since that time, LRR has grown into a joint venture between the Department of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Design Center in the School of Fine Arts, with a new committee of undergraduate students from both disciplines assuming ownership of the publication each year. Students enrolled in the LRR course meet each week to discuss, make decisions about, and produce the magazine. Outside of class, they review hundreds of submissions and work independently on promotional projects and fundraising initiatives for the magazine.
“It’s not like any other class I’m used to teaching,” says Assistant Professor in Residence of English and Director of Creative Writing Sean Frederick Forbes, who served as the faculty advisor of the 2017 publication. “It’s not like a creative writing workshop or a lecture. It’s technically a practicum course, but it’s also more than that at the same time.”
Under the guidance of Forbes, students learn about what goes into a literary journal. Forbes says that students apply many practical skills on a daily basis, ranging from working in groups to organizing events and fundraisers to managing individual projects.
“It’s a huge collaborative effort entirely run by undergraduate students,” Forbes says. “You don’t have that at many institutions, and if you do, it’s at the more privileged institutions. I think that’s important for students at UConn to realize; this is a great privilege.”
Building a Portfolio
To undergraduate editors of the magazine, the publication is more than just a course: It’s a unique professional development opportunity.
“Practically speaking, serving on the staff of LRR gets our students jobs,” says Visiting Assistant Professor of English Darcie Dennigan, who advised the magazine from 2013-2014. “It’s an apprenticeship in literary editing and publishing, and I’ve seen how our alumni successfully leverage their experience on the journal into jobs. Having a professional quality product as part of their portfolio is invaluable.”
Koo, a biology and English double major, says that working on the journal allowed her to engage directly with the literary and arts side of her education.
“I’ve gained so much confidence and concrete life skills, and my other classes don’t really do that,” Koo explains. “Even other English classes don’t give you the same kind of hands-on experience with literature as the Long River Review does.”
The Long River Review alumni also praise the experience, which they say equipped them with skills that help them excel in various professional fields.
“For many students, it’s an amazing taste of what publishing would look like as a career,” says Tim Stobierski ’11 (CLAS).
Stobierski is currently an inbound consultant at Pepperland Marketing, a freelance writer, and the founding editor of Student Debt Warriors, a website focused on helping college graduates pay back their student loans.
He claims that his experiences on the staff of the Long River Review led him to land an internship with Yale University Press after he graduated from UConn, and ultimately a job at the Taunton Press in Newtown.
“Every part of the editing process from LRR carries over to the real world of publishing and editing,” Stobierski says. “Even though I work in marketing now, many of the same principles apply as when I was in publishing. Creating and editing content, marketing it to the world, and working with other people are skills you need in any industry.”
An Evolving Publication
Just as LRR has impacted hundreds of UConn students during its 20-year lifespan, the publication in turn evolves each year from a new crop of undergraduate editors who bring their own fresh perspective to the magazine.
For many UConn students who are published each year, the Long River Review is the first place their work has been officially published. But to celebrate twenty years of publications, the 2017 LRR production class wanted to expand this opportunity to writers and artists outside of the UConn community by accepting national submissions.
“I hope that opening up to national submissions is the beginning of something new and will begin expanding readership beyond the college,” says Koo.
In addition to expanding the publication’s reach, this year was also the first that the staff has had individuals fill new leadership positions for the magazine, including a publicity and social media coordinator and arts liaison. These new roles helped expedite production and create a stronger online presence alongside the journal’s website.
Going forward, Koo wants to see the LRR grow by making connections with other literary magazines in the area and expanding its presence as a nationally-recognized publisher of literature and art.
But these initiatives will be left up to the next cohort of student editors. Koo graduated in May and plans to attend medical school. She hopes to use her knowledge of what’s called “narrative medicine,” which combines the humanities and storytelling with the practice of medicine, into her approach as a doctor.
“Unlike some undergraduate literary journals, the LRR changes with the students who make it, it incorporates new media and evolving aesthetics, and each year has a different flavor than the last,” says Dennigan. “It’s important because it means that the UConn community has something to say and has the power and means to create a vehicle in which to say it with volume.”
By: Sydney Lauro ’17 (CLAS)