Ruth Stewart was recently appointed Editor-in-Chief of The Northern Virginia Review. Workshop leader Solveig Eggerz sat down with her to discuss the importance of literary journals to the writing community, especially emerging writers.
SE: What have you learned from the ten years you’ve been on the staff of the The Northern Virginia Review?
RS: I’ve learned that a literary journal, for both writers and readers, is all about connecting. For writers, besides offering a public connection—a way to get their work “out there”—journals offer a way to connect with readers at a deeply personal, validating level. Roberto Christiano, a regular contributor, put it this way: “Being published is the world saying back to you that your efforts are not in vain, that you are worthwhile, that what you have to say, what you think, how you feel, is important. You are, in essence, heard.” Not only that, journals provide a terrific opportunity for writers to express different facets of themselves and experiment with different voices and styles.
I’ve also learned that journals like The Northern Virginia Review provide an invaluable connection for emerging writers. Seeing their work published alongside that of established authors is the world saying back to them, “You’re a writer,” and that can be a life changer. I experienced this emotional reinforcement firsthand when a memoir piece I’d submitted was selected for a best prose award over a piece by a writer whose debut novel had been translated into 14 languages. I may never write an international bestseller, but that recognition gave me enough faith in my creative work to keep writing. Having experienced this boost in confidence as a writer, I, in turn, as an editor, am thrilled when contributors who’ve gone on to publish widely tell me that appearing in the Review was a turning point in their writing careers.
SE: Would you say that a journal such as The Northern Virginia Review is as much about reading as it is about writing? If so, how?
RS: Reading is about connecting, too. If the story or poem rings true, it gets inside us and sticks. As an editor, I look for works that have the power to do that.
But working as an editor taught me that there’s reading and then there’s reading. I learned the difference when I was preparing a manuscript draft of The Northern Virginia Review and had to download all of the accepted submissions into a single file. One of the longer stories contained a huge gap that I couldn’t get rid of no matter what. It wasn’t a page break, it wasn’t a hidden table—it was pure evil. “I’ll fix this if I have to type the whole blamed story over again,” I vowed. And that’s exactly what I ended up doing. By the time I was typing the last page, I was aching with the main character’s grief—a visceral pain that I knew the author of the story must have felt when she wrote that page. That evil page gap turned out to be blessing. The process of typing the story had slowed down my mind enough so the story could get inside me. The scenes and the characters and the rhythms of the author’s voice are still there and have become a part of me. Now when I read submissions, besides looking for poems and stories that will stick in readers’ hearts and minds, I also make sure the doors to my own heart and mind are open wide to whatever the work has to offer.
SE: What sets The Northern Virginia Review apart from other literary journals?
A number of things. Its longevity—30 years and counting. Its continual expansion. We’ve grown from a venue for college faculty to a regional journal that regularly publishes the works of award-winning authors and poets. This year, for the first time, we’ll be nominating a work for a Pushcart Prize. Next year we plan to attend the AWP conference. Also, our annual launch celebrations attract well-known keynote speakers from a variety of literary fields—David Baldacci, Sydney Blumenthal, and T. R. Hummer, to name a few. Another thing I love about The Northern Virginia Review is that it’s simply gorgeous. I’m always stunned by the quality of our art and photography submissions. Our art editor, Julia Turner, does a terrific job of supervising the design and layout to produce a full-size, elegant publication that’s hard to resist picking up.
Before joining the staff of The Northern Virginia Review, Ruth Stewart’s submissions won top prizes in both poetry and prose. Her writing has also appeared in The Washington Post and in national and international journals on writing and poetry.
A native of Iceland, Solveig Eggerz published her first novel, Seal Woman, in 2008 with Ghost Road Press. In 2011 it was published in Icelandic and was nominated by the literary society Krummi for the Red Crow Feather Award. As a manuscript, Seal Woman won first prize for fiction from the Maryland Writers Association.
The next submission deadline for The Northern Virginia Review is October 16, 2015 Find instructions at http://blogs.nvcc.edu/tnvr