The rarified world of university literary magazines spilled into the mainstream with the July suicide of the Virginia Quarterly Review's managing editor, Kevin Morrissey. His death was followed by accusations that the editor-in-chief, Ted Genoways, had bullied Morrissey.
Since then, the media has devoted much attention to the VQR controversy, which as of this writing is still under investigation by the University of Virginia, home to the journal.
I mention the case because it exposes the normally under-the-radar world of lit journals. To get further insight, I spoke with Mary Flinn, a senior literary editor for Blackbird — an online, biannual literary magazine founded in 2002 in partnership between Virginia Commonwealth University's English department and New Virginia Review, a nonprofit journal based in Tidewater.
You can tell a lot just from mastheads. VQR, winner of multiple National Magazine Awards, employed six full-time staffers before Morrissey's death. Meanwhile, Blackbird's staff is replete with undergraduate and graduate interns.
"I like the model of working together, rather than hierarchical and top-down," says Flinn, also director of New Virginia Review. "We really cannot exist without each other."
Another difference: VQR was famously overseen by former U.Va. President John T. Casteen III and operated on a $600,000 annual budget.
Blackbird, on the other hand, receives $10,000 annually from VCU, and the New Virginia Review tries to match that amount through grants and donations; most of this money goes to pay honoraria to writers.
That doesn't mean the journal isn't ambitious. Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Claudia Emerson, now the state's poet laureate, gave the publication a never-published poem, "Secure the Shadow," and works by other award-winning writers have appeared on the website, www.blackbird.vcu.edu.
In the past year, Flinn received 2,000 poetry submissions for about 80 slots, and "that number keeps going up." Blackbird also runs 16 short stories a year.
Appearing online sometime between Nov. 15 and Dec. 1, Blackbird will include work from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Flinn says publishing well-known writers is exciting, but "the most fun thing is finding something new" — the young poet emerging from an MFA program or a writer from across the globe.