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A Subtropical Creation
Publishing a national literary magazine is more than seeking out and showcasing the pennings of talented writers. It also involves all the burdensome little details: bar codes, ISSN numbers, printer bids. For the English professors who have created UF’s new literary magazine subtropics, the business of creating a magazine meant taking nothing for granted and relying on the kindness of the literary world.
“We were a little naïve, as none of us had done it before,” says David Leavitt, subtropics founder and a creative writing professor in the English department. “It was like building a bridge while crossing it, though I don’t think there is any other way to start a magazine.”
There was an especial sense of urgency in producing the first issue and getting it off on the right track, so that what followed would not be trapped by initial mistakes.
UF’s former literary magazine, The Florida Quarterly, faded out so long ago that no one remembers the exact date of the final issue. When Leavitt arrived at the university five years ago, he thought it was time for a replacement. A couple of years later, Department Chair John Leavey gave the go-ahead and fund raising began. Donations from UF’s Research Foundation, the CLAS Dean’s Office, Storter-Childs Printing and individual supporters finally allowed Leavitt, poetry editor Sidney Wade and managing editor Mark Mitchell to begin working on the magazine itself last year.
A year’s worth of reading, editing and bureaucratic finessing was embodied in the 146-page magazine released in January.
“Our goal was to put out a knock-out first issue,” says Leavitt. He solicited work from literary agents, while creative writing professor Wade relied on her knowledge of the poetry world.
Submissions are now surging in, about 20 a week, while the extra workload means creative writing graduate students will do more of the initial reading of unsolicited manuscripts. Student Dave Reidy says he has appreciated the opportunity to dig into pieces by writers like Harold Bloom and John Barth. “For someone of my age and station that is a rare opportunity.”
Though distinctly a local project, subtropics is a national magazine with the ambition of featuring some of the best work being written today. In addition to paying its writers at the top of the spectrum—$1,000 for prose, $500 for short pieces, $100 for poetry—the magazine also stands apart from competitors by providing its writers with a true rarity in the literary world: constructive feedback.
While a large plastic bin sits in Mitchell’s office to catch rejected submissions, he says they take the time to coax and encourage those with potential. “My job is to say, ‘Don’t be afraid. Keep at it. Write without fear.’”
Kent Annan, whose nonfiction sketches on living in Haiti are in the first issue, had his first and second pieces rejected but was so encouraged by the honesty and promise in the critiques that he continued to push himself until he wrote a piece subtropics was willing to publish. “Some weeks later I sent a third,” he says. “I said, ‘I promise not to bug you anymore, but I think this one is perfect.’” Mitchell agreed. “It was always close, and finally he nailed it.”
The second issue of subtropics, due out in May, will include works by poet laureate Billy Collins and poems by the late Florida poet laureate, Vivian Laramore Rader. The inaugural issue can be purchased at Goerings Book Store in Gainesville or from Amazon.com.