During his sophomore year, Alexander Raz ’16 wanted to see an English Department journal that celebrated the works of writers and artists from far and wide. Three years later, his doggedness has paid off with the newly revived Vassar Review.
“I was interested in literary journals on this campus and I went into the archives and looked at the old Vassar Reviews, after doing some initial research. The best path seemed to be reviving this rich history. We have 70 years of content,” Raz says.
The senior spent the first two years researching and networking—with help from Special Collections—and production moved forward in 2015-16 with the aid of fellow senior Palak Patel. The editors-in-chief, both English majors—Raz, a double major with film, and Patel, with a double in religion—worked with faculty members and students to get the first issue out.
“If we didn’t get it done this year, we didn’t know if it would ever get done. A set model and funding, and all the tiny details that are essential in creating a literary journal, needed to be taken care of before we graduated,” Patel says.
The original Vassar Review ran from 1927-1993, stopping for a lack of interest as similar journals—including the Vassar Student Review and Helicon—proved more popular over the years. The Vassar Review is quite different from other journals; it seeks submissions almost exclusively from outside the college (the exception was the work of two students chosen for publication in the Vassar Review through a contest in collaboration with the Vassar Student Review).
It’s not uncommon for literary journals to fall out of favor and then be revived, says Professor of English Paul Kane, who helped with the journal.
“It’s wonderful to see the Vassar Review come back, especially with such a renewed vision of what was best in the journal’s past, along with a keen sense of how new media might best be used in the future,” Kane says.
Each issue will have a theme, the first being “Trauma and Träume: Pain and Dreams in Art & Literature.” It’s a topic Raz has written about before, so he brought it to the journal’s board for discussion, wondering chiefly if it was a broad enough topic to draw a diverse body of writers.
“We didn’t find a lot of literary journals that brought the conversation together,” Raz says.
Approximately 200 submissions were received and 40 were chosen for the 112-page journal, Patel says. There are seven sections: archives, arts, fiction, literary non-fiction, digital media, poetry, and reviews. For each section, two students and one faculty member are responsible for editing and other content responsibilities.
“The main thing we wanted was to have students be an integral part,” Raz says, noting that nearly 20 students helped with editing submissions, graphic design of the journal, marketing, and other tasks.
Faculty members who sit on the advisory board committed 3-5 years to the journal, Patel says. In addition, she and Raz have talked to students who are interested in working on next year’s edition and they’re especially keen on getting those who are traveling abroad to spread the word, she says.
“It’s not just a literary journal but an organization behind a literary journal that will keep going,” Raz notes.
Accepted submissions came from professional writers, alumnae/i—Christopher Gonzalez ’15, Susie Martinez ’15, and Farisa Khalid ’05—graduate students, and others.
The first issue will include hard copies for $20 (some will be available for free for those students who can’t afford the price) and a complementary online version.
The launch is scheduled for May 5 at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center Sculpture Garden. All contributors will be invited to attend and the plan is to have a few short readings or remarks from some of them, Patel says. Both editors-in-chief hope that some of the alumnae/i who were involved with the original Vassar Review will attend.
The first issue should be dedicated to Raz and Patel, Kane says, noting the scope of work that was required to successfully do what they did.
“When Alex first approached me about this idea to revive the Vassar Review, I was a little skeptical because I knew, from experience, that such a scheme required an immense amount of diligent work to organize and execute,” he says, adding that Raz’s determination and Patel’s addition to the team cemented their chances of success. “It was clear there would be no stopping them.”
-Photos by Karl Rabe