It’s Friday, which is as good a day as any to kickstart a new series. Join us as we travel across the country and explore the literary magazines and journals and the places they call home!
If you don’t think of Alabama when you think of the literary scene you’re forgetting about Harper Lee’s homeland and one of the greatest books to ever come out of the state, let alone the entire country: To Kill A Mockingbird. Alabama’s writers face the daunting task of rising to and surpassing not only their literary but also their sociopolitical past and present (Rosa Parks, the Civil Rights movement, anything you read about in the news today, and so forth). Thankfully, they are well on their way. The bulk of Alabama’s notable lit mags are attached to universities, meaning they’re connected to their state’s rich history and embedded in some sophisticated-if-not-complicated criticism and thinking—worthy bastions of expression in a culture wrestling with oppression.
Don’t let the gentle-sounding title throw you—this University of Alabama at Birmingham-based, female-backed pub has been holding on strong for almost twenty years, albeit under a different moniker (poemmemoirstory took on the new name Nelle just last year in 2018). Without being too blatantly and sweepingly affirmatory, I’ll say this lit mag houses the best set of women’s writing you’ve never heard of. Each issue is packed full of pretty names and gritty moments—just the type of subversive complexity that’s truly helping push and grow women’s lit. Bonus: audio recordings of some favorite contributors’ pieces for when you’re hitting the gym or on a drive. Help Nelle make it to 2021 and beyond by submitting (if you identify as female) or referring a talented gal pal (if you identify as male). Also, if you’re more interested in on-the-ground, community-based happenings near UAB, check out the department’s spoken-word-based lit hub Aura as well.
Two words: class act. This publication began in 1967 out of Auburn University and has become a staple, nay, stronghold of literary excellence. If the clean, easy-to-navigate, we’ve-clearly-kept-up-our-tech-savviness vibes don’t place SHR in a neck-and-neck with New Yorker- or Paris Review-level competition, the writing inside sure does. In addition to cream-of-the-crop poetry and prose, SHR’s Features section hosts meta-conversations and roundtables to enrich educators, bibliophiles, and cultural investigators alike. And as a final bonus (the gifts just keep on giving), SHR is a prime example of a more longstanding magazine showcasing its archives well, giving its origins and older history equal footing with the recent past—check out the 1960s here.
A welcome foil to the clean lines and perfect posture of SHR, Steel Toe Review boasts a cavalier approach to reading, writing, and publishing that is representative of the South’s more unruly side. Publishing an annual print issue and new work online “whenever we feel like it,” STR looks for work that’s brave enough to address growth and decay (often two sides of the same coin). They wear their heart on their sleeve—er, Facebook post— so you always know what kind of work they’re looking for and when, an authenticity deeply appreciated to any of you who (like us) are constantly refreshing Submittable. STR is a case study in grounded grassroots greatness.
Undoubtedly the coolest publication coming out of the state, Black Warrior Review has a reputation for finding that sweet spot in the Venn Diagram of weird, badass, and beautiful. With its home base at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, roots in Native American land and history, tendrils in all kinds of anthologies and awards lists, and a legendary list of past contributors, this is a literary hub that has the strength to pursue true growth and evolution. Just a few notable dope-AF things: a local feature that digs into the dirt (literal and metaphorical) of the real Alabama world around it, a current featured artist whose medium is surreal tapestry, and “Boyfriend Village”, an online subset that while we don’t understand completely we 100% get and want to read all of. Also cool: BWR publishes translations, a less-common practice among lit mags and a great thing for a trendsetting magazine to be making space for.
What’s tiny, new, and probably needs your submissions and subscriptions to boost it into an ongoing, stable existence? It’s THAT Literary Review! “Affiliated” (whatever that means) with the Department of English and Philosophy and the College of Arts and Sciences at Auburn University at Montgomery. Published annually, this fledgling lit mag is a poetry-heavy PDF (or actual magazine—come on, people, buy one!) studded with striking art. The work they publish and the work they seek is idiosyncratic, fun, surprising, and alive. The next submission window closes in January 2020, in case you’d like to align your New Year’s Resolution with THAT kind of aesthetic (see what we did there?).
I wanted to describe Birmingham Arts Journal as “one your mom could submit to,” but that feels derogatory and the pages of BAJ are chock full of some pretty great reads. Perhaps it’s the oil paintings of flowers and girls’ faces all over the place, perhaps it’s the fact you can still mail in submissions, perhaps it’s the utter sincerity and straightforwardness of the whole thing—but let us not judge a lit mag by its online layout nor its Submittability! BAJ defines diversity by success levels, inviting “works by the famous, not-yet-famous, and never-to-be-famous” to all join together in one place. Submitting to BAJ feels like going to the county fair: You have to be dragged by a friend, but something in the arts building sent you in a trance, the corn dogs taste like golden hour, and one of the goats in the 4-H section caught your eye and saw your soul.
By Melissa Hinshaw