Interview by Deborah Leipziger
What advice do you have for writers submitting to Salamander?
First, send work during our reading period, which runs from September1st through April 30th. Be prepared to wait approximately two months for a response. As with any magazine, it’s helpful to see the kind of work that Salamander publishes by reading a few issues before you send. Keep your cover letter short and simple: we don’t need to know lots of personal facts about you, since it’s the work that we are evaluating. Understand that selecting work is subjective; editors’ taste varies widely, and with over 600 literary journals in the U.S., there are plenty of outlets for publishing.
What is the review process like?
Salamander’s staff consists of an editor-in-chief and a managing editor, off-site poetry and fiction editors, a senior editor, contributing editors, and editorial interns. When a submission comes into the office, it is looked at both by editorial interns and the editor and managing editor. Some submissions are returned to the writers, and others are sent along to the appropriate off-site editor, who will then review the material. Final decisions are the result of meetings between the poetry editor, the fiction editor, the senior editor, and the editor-in-chief.
What makes Salamander different from other literary magazines?
In my view, each literary magazine has its own character, hard to put into words but easy to sense as you read. In selecting work for Salamander, we look for work that has transformative power—that is, the writing changed us in some way as we read it, and we hope that it will have a similar effect on our readers. We have a taste for writing that persuades through quiet understatement, although we have also published work that pushes the envelope through its dramatic characteristics, its comedy, or its level of experimentation.
Which literary magazines do you admire?
To name just a few--Agni, for the quality of its essays, nonfiction, and poetry; Field, for the editors’ eye for unusual and unusually convincing poetry; Fulcrum, for its international outlook and outstanding poetry of all different “schools”; Harvard Review, for its generous section of book reviews and its commitment to publishing thought-provoking new and established writers; Memorious, which has been a leader in both literary quality and design in on-line publications; Poetry, for its openness to arresting poetry of all types; Post Road, for the way that its many off-site editors contribute a kaleidoscope of different yet complementary aesthetic senses to the whole; The Straddler, for its willingness to report on larger issues of art and culture; Tuesday; an Art Project, for its artistic presentation of beautifully crystallized poems; Upstreet, for its interviews with well-known story writers and the strength of its poetry and fiction. I could go on and on, but I’d better stop here so I can answer the next questions.
How long have you been the editor at Salamander? In that time, what trends do you note? (For example, have submissions increased, decreased? Has quality gotten better?)
I’m the founding editor at Salamander, and the magazine has been going for 18 years. Five years ago, the magazine moved out of my attic and into an office at Suffolk University, where it is now published.
Moving to Suffolk dramatically increased the number of submissions we receive, which in turn has increased the number of pages in the journal. Early issues were between 60 and 80 pages, and the issue now at the printer’s is 170 pages. We’ve always found high-quality work to publish, but now, because of
the increase in submissions, the percentage of work we accept for the magazine is smaller than it used to be.
Salamander has a limited on-line presence. Do you feel pressure to make the on-line content a larger aspect of Salamander? Why/why not?
Some journals were founded as on-line journals and therefore automatically have a generous on-line presence. For the rest, this has been a time of transition. The first phase of the transition was that journals made informational websites; the second phase is the decision-making process about how much of a journal’s contents to put on line, and how to value those contents.
Salamander is in the midst of a website overhaul in which we will be offering an electronic version of the journal to subscribers. We are excited about having our new site operational this coming winter.
New MFA programs are popping up all the time, with an enrollment at an all-time high. What do you think about the shift in our culture toward writers getting degrees in writing?
My thinking has more to do with the publishing aspect of things than with the writing degree programs per se. Salamander cherishes the fact that it has a general readership as well as a readership consisting of other writers, and I believe in the importance of literary journals reaching a wider audience. I am
concerned that writing programs, while they help foster many excellent new talents, might be subject to passing trends that create an in-group for literary reception.
On the other hand, writing, and all of the arts, change and develop over time through the works of small groups of innovators. Writing programs can offer encouragement and direction to potential innovators. I got an M.F.A. from Columbia University, and I feel that students there were exposed to a variety of aesthetic viewpoints. What’s important for all students in all writing programs is to read widely, literature from other periods as well as literature from their own time: reading is key to any writer’s long-term development.
Where do you see print journals going, in the coming years?
As the methods for reading text continue to change, print journals will need to be available in different formats. But the larger question is about reading itself: will our country continue to produce serious, astute, informed readers of literature over the next several decades? I certainly hope so!