By Mairin Rivett
This summer, Little Patuxent Review (LPR) marks 10 years of publishing art, poetry, and prose with its 20th issue. Meet the creative force behind the journal and hear readings from contributors to the current issue on Sunday, August 21, 2 p.m. at The Writer’s Center (read more).
Mike Clark, Ann Bracken, Ann Barney, and Brendan Donegan founded the biannual literary journal in 2006. As local writers, they wanted to create a forum in which writers and artists around the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area could submit their work for publication.
Steven Leyva is in his third year as editor, and, by his own admission, has no plans of leaving the magazine anytime soon. “This is my sixth issue,” he said in a phone interview. “And, you know, [I] don’t have any plans to go anywhere, so we’ll see how many more years I can tack on.”
Over the course of the last decade, the editorial team at LPR, like most literary journals, has had to evaluate and modify its approach to remain both competitive and relevant. The biggest change recently was a reconsideration of themed issues. Levya explained that themes can limit time needed to create a new piece. In order to further encourage writers to submit to LPR, the editors decided to have one themed and one un-themed issue each year, making the summer issue un-themed
The success of this new strategy was immediately noticeable. “The first issue that we made un-themed, our amount of submissions doubled,” Leyva said. “We went from about 300 to 600 to 700 submissions. And we have a volunteer staff so we were like, woah, woah, woah, woah. Everyone’s workload just doubled!” A very good problem to have, Leyva was quick to note.
There’s a good reason for this large interest from writers; LPR has quite the track record when it comes to publishing work by authors and artists who go on to have great success. Some of these names include Michael Glaser (former Poet Laureate of Maryland), Donald Hall (former United States Poet Laureate), Joy Harjo (recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas), Michael Chabon (awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2001), Manil Suri (international best-selling author), and many, many others. Despite having published these large names, LPR remains committed not only to featuring work from nationally known writers and authors, but also to publishing new or unknown writers. They accept submissions from any writer living in the United States (although mainly focus on the Mid-Atlantic region) and try to strike a balance between established writers and new voices that offer unique perspectives.
“Every issue we tend to have an interview with someone who is already sort of established,” Leyva explained. The lead singer from Talking Heads, David Byrne, was the first example he gave. There have been prize winners such as Tara Heart whose poem “Patronize” went on to win awards and locally known writers such as Derrick Westin Brown. The wide range of authors who get published in each issue isn’t an accident: “It’s always fun,” Leyva said, “to put those [established] voices in conversation with people who are just coming up.”
In order to put these voices in conversation, LPR has in place a different policy than most literary magazines—a policy against blind submissions. While many editors believe that blind submissions are the only way to evaluate submissions without bias, Leyva claims it actually does the exact opposite. Blind submissions, he said, give people the opportunity to re-inscribe their own biases by always going with pieces that connect with them personally or pieces that they see as “normative.” “I think if you want to be a fully diverse journal and represent the communities [of] which you are being supported by, I think you have to be in conversation with the writers, and so that means knowing who [those writers] are.”
Community and place are important when talking about LPR, which grew out of the Maryland/Virginia/DC writing community, and they haven’t lost their regional identity or connection. Most of the magazine is funded by grants from places such as Howard County’s Arts Council and Maryland’s State Art council. They use a Colombia, Maryland-based printing house, Indigo Inc., to print all of their magazines. Even the name, Little Patuxent Review, pays homage to the area in which it is created—referring to the Little Patuxent River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. While Leyva admitted that most metaphorical connections to the name fall apart, he stated that where the name holds the most significance is in its ability to ground the magazine to one particular place. “When LPR first started it was much more thought of as a regional, and maybe even more so like a Howard County journal, if that makes sense,” he said. “And it has grown to include much more than that, but it comes from that sort of grounding and wanting to be grounded in a place; that identity.”
With all of the growth that LPR has experienced over the last 10 years, their ability to remain true to the original vision of the magazine and strong—particularly in the determination to remain a print journal. “In some ways, the majority of our budget is put towards [printing the magazine], but I think we don’t talk enough about what is gained by remaining in print,” Leyva said. LPR has a visual artist featured in every issue and publishing a print magazine presents the art as much closer to its true color than it would on a screen. But there is another reason LPR has decided to stick with print: the idea of the literary journals as a piece of fine art. “If you think of the experience of reading on a screen,” Leyva said, “it will more likely resemble a sort of infinite scroll, and because of that way of reading, the experience with a particular work can also become similar—I read a little bit and then I’m off to something else. By virtue of being contained, the art object of the journal sometimes can encourage the dialogue between pieces that you’d miss online.”
Leyva hopes 10 years from now LPR is still connected to its community in this way, still committed to publishing good writing, and still striving to be as diverse and as welcoming to writers and authors from all genres and backgrounds as they possibly can be.
To submit or subscribe to the journal, please visit https://littlepatuxentreview.org