Last year around this time our former Editor-in-Chief, Ben Dolan, wrote a pretty incredible Letter from the Editor to mark our 29th Issue. In Ben’s letter, he explores the world of literary magazines more generally—how they came to be and where Blue Mesa Review fits in. It was an exploration of tradition, an investigation into where we as a magazine came from and how we’ve come to understand our place in the current literary landscape. It seems that when we come to the end of things, there is always a tendency to look back, to understand how a certain experience came to pass, and to reflect on that experience.
But rather than look back, I’m inclined to look forward—to the future of the magazine that starts now. Or rather, from now on. There is a catch to Blue Mesa Review, and it is one that I’m sure many university-run literary magazines face: our staff rotates annually. My position as Editor-in-Chief always came with an expiration date, as will the next person’s. This is because our magazine is run by graduate students in the Master of Fine Arts program here at the University of New Mexico. We each are here for three years. The first year, if we are sufficiently inclined to volunteer our time with Blue Mesa Review, we spend reading submissions. The second year we spend finding work to publish as genre editors. And the third year we spend leading the magazine.
The challenge, however, is that with each new group of editors comes, of course, a new direction for the magazine. We all have our own literary interests and proclivities. I say this is a challenge because it can lead to an identity crisis from year to year. The question of who we are and what we do becomes really important—and yet, that question often goes unanswered. The staff of Blue Mesa Review volunteers its time to put together an issue, but on top of coursework and work on our own writing, time disappears fairly quickly. And so the question looms while we search for the very best stories, poems, essays, interviews, and artwork we can find. But that doesn’t make the answer any less essential.
While at AWP in Minneapolis, I found myself walking through a book fair with aisle after aisle of other literary magazines just like BMR. There had to have been hundreds. Some of them, very likely, enjoy funding from their universities, like we used to before our funding was cut in 2012. Some of them, on the other hand, probably depend upon a staff of volunteers to read, select, edit, and put together any given issue, like we do now. Which begs the question: why? Why do we have literary magazines at all? I think this question is irrevocably tied to the question of what BMR is. And so I posed it to our current staff, some of whom have worked for the magazine for three years and will be leaving in a matter of days when we graduate, and some of whom will be at the helm next year.
Here is what they came up with:
Blue Mesa Review is… real. Real as in legit, and real as in down-to-earth/authentic. I think there is some temptation to think of MFA-run magazines as less valuable than some of the big-name magazines, but working at BMR, I have come to see the value of smaller magazines taking an active role in the literary community by working to publish new voices and engage with established writers through interviews, reviews, blog posts, and social media. Magazines like BMR have a kind of freedom and flexibility in publishing that larger magazines may not have. In fact, maybe we have a responsibility to seek out and publish writing that may not make its way to other venues. I like to think of it as a giant literary conversation in which we have a solid place (as evidenced by our 25-year history and thousands of followers and readers). An up-to-date Web platform and an active social media presence are key to participating in this exchange with students, writers, publishers, and readers of all levels. BMR is approachable and authentic. We exist because of the dedication of smart people—faculty and students who are committed to their craft and are working actively to read and publish new work from others. Our editors are thoughtful and our editorial discussions are thoughtful, too, and open to different perspectives. The result is a magazine that reflects the aesthetics of a rotating board and adapts to the changing and growing readership. And we’re a little scrappy. Despite the challenges of limited resources and time, we’ve been able to reimagine the magazine online (via Twitter, Facebook, Works in Progress readings, AWP readings, interviews, blogs, etc.) to increase our readership and engagement with the community. So maybe by “scrappy,” I mean “committed.”
Blue Mesa Review is a magazine committed to publishing the best fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from diverse and unique voices. Our origins are deeply rooted in the traditions of the Southwest, but we welcome experimental, traditional, regional, and edgy work from all over the world. The editors are invested in promoting and publishing the work of women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community.
Blue Mesa Review is a literary magazine committed to publishing a diverse set of new writers whose work shows promise. BMR is also committed to creating a literary community that challenges the lack of diversity found in both mainstream and independent publishing.
Blue Mesa Review is the union of words, ideas, and experiences—a space in which writers have the opportunity to see their work published and readers have the opportunity to see work that should be but otherwise may not have been heard.
Blue Mesa Review and other magazines of its ilk provide an important means for writers and editors alike to cut their teeth in a competitive industry afforded little attention and even littler assistance by the wider world. Let’s face it: everyone working at and submitting to BMR hopes to move on to bigger and better things. That’s neither indictment nor condemnation, though. We still occupy an important link in the literary food chain. We provide a forum for emerging writers to gain renown even as we provide important on-the-job training (with regard to both artistic craft and arts administration) for the editorial staff enrolled in the MFA program. To the former end, our publication record is testament to our success: we published Sherman Alexie before The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven put him on the map (and then republished him in our recent 25th anniversary anthology). More recently, we published Helen Ellis’s first story before she went on to place a collection with Doubleday, and Charles McLeod won a Best of the Net Award for his prizewinning entry in our fiction contest—a contest judged by none other than Sherman Alexie, bringing the scope of the entire endeavor into perspective. And to the latter end, graduates of the editorial staff from the last three years alone have already gone on to take tenure-track teaching positions and publish multiple books. BMR is not the biggest or the best magazine out there, but that’s nothing to be ashamed of because it still fosters growth for everyone involved on both sides of the process. That’s why we volunteer our time. That’s why it’s worthwhile to support BMR. That’s why it’s worthwhile to support literary magazines writ large, small, or anywhere in between.
What is so delicious about these responses to the question of what Blue Mesa Review is, is the diversity of responses. These answers are both exemplary of the combined passion these editors have for literature in general and their differences from one another in terms of what they find valuable. In other words, they are smart, incredibly thoughtful readers who cling to their own aesthetic appetites proudly, all while working together to create what has turned out to be, as is exemplified here in Issue 31, a cohesive magazine filled with rich, interesting, beautiful writing and visual art. So yes, Blue Mesa Review is legitimate and scrappy; diverse and traditional; experimental and mainstream; small and worthwhile. But perhaps most importantly, Blue Mesa Review is here. No doubt the magazine will face more change, more struggles with the bureaucracy that is inherent to all universities. But one thing seems certain: as long as there are people in the MFA program who love reading and writing, Blue Mesa Review will remain.