English professor Sari Fordham presents a new international literary journal for students, housed at La Sierra University.
Question: The Roadrunner Review is a new online literary journal for student writers, produced by the English Department at La Sierra University. When was your first issue published and what kind of feedback have you gotten so far?
Our first issue was published February 25, 2019. People are still getting to know us, but the early feedback has been good.
How did you decide what to include in the issue?
The decision of what to include in Issue 1 was made by our editorial team, which at that time included La Sierra University students Ashli-Jane Benggon, Callie Boyd-Scoggin, Katherine Gonzalez, Holly Elaine Hayton, Ariana Marquez, as well as myself.
For The Roadrunner Review, we use the submission platform Submittable, which allows us each to independently read and vote on submissions. At the end of the submission process, we went low-tech and had a lot of conversations and made a lot of graphs on our white board.
How and why did Roadrunner come to be?
The English Department has wanted to house a literary journal for a while. I had been directing our Basic English program and when I stepped out of that role, the time was right for us to start a literary journal.
Where did it get its name?
I chose the name The Roadrunner Review because I wanted a name that would represent who we are and would suggest movement and place. We have always wanted to be international and to tell place-specific stories. Also, there's a roadrunner that zips around Humanities Hall, the building we share with the History, Politics, and Sociology department.
How have you been getting out the word about The Roadrunner Review and soliciting stories?
We have used social media a lot. We're on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We've also emailed university teachers. All of our submissions for Issue 1 were unsolicited, meaning we didn't specifically ask any writer to send us work.
Has it been difficult to ensure you are publishing work from students in a variety of locations — not just La Sierra students?
So far, we have been blessed to have received a lot of submissions from around the world. We described our journal as international and students have believed us. Being on Submittable has really helped, as has being listed on New Pages. And, of course, our student editors have done a wonderful job promoting our calls for submissions.
When does the second issue come out? How will it differ from the first issue? Are you trying to do anything differently?
Issue 2 comes out June 17. We learned a lot on the fly with Issue 1, and we're applying that knowledge to Issue 2. But what will always differentiate the issues is the work we receive. It's exciting to put out a call for submissions and to see what comes in.
The editors currently in Literary Editing and Publishing are working on Issue 2. (L to R): Ashli-Jane Benggon, J. Ethan Hoffman, Katherine Gonzalez, Emily Cortez, and Patty Granizo.
What is the Roadrunner prize?
For our first issue, we offered a prize in each genre: poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. Our judges were: poet Shana Youngdahl, novelist Andria Williams, and memoirist Kevin Fenton.
Our team selected the work for Issue 1, removed all identifying information, and sent it on to the relevant judges, who then selected the winners for each prize.
We would like to offer a contest once a year.
Are you modeling Roadrunner after any other student literary journals?
We spend a lot of time reading other literary journals and learning what they're doing well, but we aren't modeling ours after any particular one.
How long have you been in La Sierra's English Department? Tell us a little bit about your career so far and how you have ended up where you are?
I was finishing my MFA in creative writing at the University of Minnesota when I saw a job opening at La Sierra University in the English Department. I didn't neatly match the job description, but I did my research and built a case for myself in my cover letter (which is something I really recommend students do). I've been teaching at La Sierra University for 12 years now. The students here are amazingly talented and so smart, and the university is a wonderful place to work. We've built what I think is a really strong creative writing program. Several of our graduates have gone on to MFA programs straight out of our undergraduate degree. And, of course, a lot of our students publish their work while they're here at La Sierra University.
When I'm not teaching, I'm writing. I stay connected to Adventist publications because I grew up reading them and they are so dear to my heart. It's also important as a teacher for me to have ongoing relationships with Adventist editors. I'm able to authentically help students navigate Adventist publishing and submit their strongest work. I also write for non-Adventist literary journals. My writing has appeared in Brevity, Passages North, Green Mountains Review, Best of the Net, among others.
How much are you involved with putting the journal together and how much of the work is done by students?
This is a great question! Students work on the journal through a class we offer at La Sierra University called Literary Editing and Publishing. The students read a lot of work, vote on submissions, make final decisions, help with the editing, write blog posts, and manage the social media. Basically, they're involved with all the steps in putting together a literary journal.
My job is to make some of the harder calls, to do final copy edits, to keep us on deadlines, and to ensure that the journal has a continuous voice and quality. I also work with Andrew Perez, our talented web editor, to make sure our journal looks good. Andrew is an undergraduate Art + Design student at La Sierra University.
Why is the journal only available online? Is it free for anyone to access? How is it funded?
The journal is funded by the College of Arts and Science at La Sierra University, and Dean April Summitt has been extraordinarily supportive. I love teaching at La Sierra University because of the value the university has placed on the arts.
Because one of our missions is to support student writers, it's important to us that the journal is free to read and accessible around the world. We want our writers to have the wide audience they deserve and we want students who are interested in submitting to be able to read our issues and see what we're about. An online journal gives us those features, and so we have always known we wanted to be a free online journal.
The more considered decision was to offer free submissions. Most literary journals charge a small reading fee to offset some of the expenses of reading submissions. We decided not to charge for submissions because even a small fee would prevent some writers from sending us their work. We take being advocates for student writers very seriously.
Do you have rules about the content you publish? How "Adventist" does it have to be?
We constantly think and talk about content. Our journal has an advisory board and a values statement. We are mindful that we are housed at an Adventist university and we certainly hope to have Adventist readers. We don't, however, expect our writers to be Adventist or to be writing Adventist stories or poems. We like to imagine that Adventist readers are interested in other perspectives and experiences. While we're never going to be the right venue for salacious or gratuitous pieces, we prefer to focus on the kind of work we want to publish — pieces that are challenging, honest, often place-specific, international, inclusive, and fresh. We particularly like pieces that are attentive to language and structure. And, of course, we're excited whenever we publish a first time writer.
I'm also going to take this opportunity to say that we would love for more Adventist students from around the world to send us their work. Read issue 1 and get a sense of our voice.
How is the cover art chosen?
For the first issue, I had been so focused on submissions that I realized rather late that we needed a cover. I reached out to professional artist Matthew F. Fisher and asked if we could use After the Ice, and he agreed. For Issue 2, we've had a regular call for submissions and we have selected the work of a student-artist from Brazil for the cover.
What goals does La Sierra have for Roadrunner?
I'm hoping The Roadrunner Review will be a long running literary journal and that we'll help launch a lot of new writers. Along the same vein, we want to help students make the transition from being students who submit work to their teachers to writers who are actively submitting their work to literary journals.
Sari Fordham, associate professor of English at La Sierra University.
Photos courtesy of Sari Fordham.
Alita Byrd is interviews editor for Spectrum.
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