Dispatches | June 05, 2012

For a while now I’ve been working on the syllabus for the TMR internship class, which begins today.  Last weekend, looking ahead to the work week, I had a strong sense of déjà vu.  Once upon a time I was a TMR intern myself.  I’ve taught the class every summer since the 1990s. The magazine editors rotate the teaching, and summer is “my” slot. But I’ve sometimes taught it during the spring or fall semester also.  I’ve taught it through changes in staff, changes in the location of our offices, changes in technology, changes in who designed the magazine, who printed it, how it was delivered and even what it looked like.  I’ve taught it through changes in what I looked like, too, unfortunately—but more significantly, I’ve taught it through changes in what all of us around here know about editing and publishing a literary journal. (It’s not just paper and ink anymore.) I’m a trained teacher with an MA in creative writing and a doctorate in literature, and I’ve taught many courses in which the content changes at a languid pace (a new edition of the anthology; a new technological twist in teaching the writing process, etc. . . .)

But the internship is different.  The internship is a vital apprenticeship experience that is more about a two-sided exchange of knowledge than it is about a standard curriculum transmitted from teacher to student.  Interns at TMR don’t just make coffee.  Most of them never make coffee, and very little of what they do is drudgery.

What they will learn from us this semester:

Why literary publishing is important and what differentiates it from commercial publishing.  They’ll discover that connecting art with audience takes commitment and labor, for a lot less financial reward than commercial publishing offers.

What makes a story or esssay or poem worthy of publication or at least serious consideration.  We’ve already screened the students to make sure they’re sensitive, intelligent readers.  Now they’ll refine those skills by reading dozens of manuscript submissions under the supervision of the editorial staff and long-time graduate assistants. Returning students will refine these skills even more.

That literary publishing isn’t a game or pastime. They’ll cultivate professionalism as they assist in areas such as marketing, social media presence, interviewing, website maintenance.

Some of them will gain experience in recording and editing digital audio; they’ll produce the audio files that will be embedded in our digital summer issue.  Without our interns, we wouldn’t be able to do this.  In fact, without our interns, we wouldn’t even have thought of trying digital audio at the point that we did.

What we’ll learn from them this semester:

What TMR authors and pieces they are excited about.  This is good because the permanent editorial staff has read so much that we’re inclined to forget what less jaded readers really like.  The interns—graduate and undergraduate students—are an incredibly smart test readership.

What we never thought of before.  Students have discovered literary features for us to publish, designed our first website, piloted podcasts, solicited work from authors we didn’t know about and suggested interviews with authors we would not have thought to interview.  (We wouldn’t have interviewed Jon Stewart or David Sedaris without then graduate students Lania Knight and Michael Piafsky.)  One recent example: contest Coordinator Claire McQuerry’s idea to let entrants in our 2012 audio contest set their own entry fees.

I am happy that the students are back today because they remind us that what we do for a living is really interesting and cool.  How great is it that we are going to have a bunch of smart young women and men around the office who like to read, and who want to learn how to find, publish and promote good writing?