When appointed to the editorship of this journal in 1994, I was given the explicit charge to “bring the Review back to the Hill.” Which I took to mean reconnecting the enterprise to the life of Kenyon College. Made sense. No other institution, it seemed to me then and now, finds its identity so deeply anchored to its literary heritage. Bringing the Kenyon Review into better alignment with the college and with that history seemed both right and necessary.
An obvious early step in that pursuit included inviting students to join our very small band. And in that first year we managed to attract two marvelous undergraduates as volunteers. I remember their faces but, I confess, not their names. (If you’re out there, please let me know!) We dubbed them Kenyon Review Associates. And they set to work with great enthusiasm.
Our offices, two very small ones, still nestled in the basement of Sunset Cottage. So all of us became intimate with ozone and mildew. Indeed, one duty we shared was emptying the dehumidifier as needed. And then there was the mail. Lots of trays and plastic baskets, ferried over from the post office and college mail room. Nothing electronic, of course. Not a byte on the horizon. Some submissions arrived via aerogramme, and not a few written with pen or pencil. Sheets of paper and manila envelopes and stamps. Stamps that needed, many of them, to be licked or at least sponged. . . .
After a bit of light ferreting, I’ve discovered that we began awarding associates public credit in the spring of 1997, with a newly designed masthead. Nineteen students had joined our ranks by then, and many of them I do remember vividly: Rachel Orr and Jennifer Maxwell, Elizabeth Armbuster and Jessica Dolce, MacAdam Glinn and Lauren Goodwin. I can’t list them all here, but I can say—and it fills me with delight and amazement to realize—that I’m still in regular touch with several. I treasure that fact. And many have gone on to be writers, editors, and teachers. What a joy.
I should acknowledge the compelling reason for adding them to the masthead: by then they were doing so much more than merely logging manuscripts and emptying dehumidifiers. Rather, we’d come to look for their help with the ever-growing slew of submissions. Brilliant and talented though our associates have been, however, this expanding role made it incumbent on us to train them intensively in how to read—not as a scholar, nor even as a writer, but as an editor. This requires a distinct set of skills that are not entirely self-evident. Over time, the training developed into a weekly seminar that continues to be rigorous, lively, productive, and fun.
It’s true, of course, that these students also benefit from an expanding set of duties, as well as the opportunity to play a more integral role in producing the Kenyon Review. Apart from the intrinsic reward, the experience and training have provided them with substantial bona fides when seeking a job in publishing or with a literary agent, or even when applying to graduate school.
I’ve been struck recently by attempts to label such benefits as a kind of “experiential education”—students learning valuable skills in a nonacademic environment—similar to internships, which are the pedagogical flavor of the moment. Or, in a phrase still more infelicitous: the training and responsibilities of the KR associates have been touted as “high impact practices.” Sigh. I suppose.
Obviously, I believe, as a teacher, that the experiences and education and training our associates receive are profoundly valuable. They are deeply enriching in many ways. But we editors at the Review have gained a great deal as well, not least the chance to collaborate with these exceptional young people. Training them has also sharpened our own skills as readers and editors in deciding just what literature deserves to appear under the banner of the Kenyon Review.
Since the advent of online submissions some fifteen years ago, we’ve come to depend on our band of KR associates more than ever. At first, the ability of authors to send their work to us electronically seemed one of the Internet’s unmixed blessings. Over time we could phase out those paper manuscripts arriving by the bucket. No longer was it necessary to log individual pieces manually. Nor did the occasional story or set of poems mysteriously wander off into the editorial ether. Editors—and associates too—could swap, share, and comment on submissions securely and instantaneously.
But soon, of course, we discovered the downside. The ease of clicking a mouse has meant that the number of stories, poems, essays, and plays arriving from around the country and the world has soared, and soared astronomically. Whereas in the 1990s we might receive paper submissions across the course of an entire academic year—a daunting labor but one we could manage—in recent years, even after drastically limiting the open submissions period, the floodgates have been all but overwhelmed. From two associates to nineteen—and now to over eighty. Only with their efforts have we been able to keep our promise of reading all of the work entrusted to us by authors of every stripe and variety. There’s no hyperbole in my claim that we couldn’t do it without them.
The growth in this program has been steady but rather rapid. Yet beyond our needs in reviewing submissions, our motive from the start has remained to nurture the link between the Review and the college and to share the excitement of being an associate with as many students as possible.
This may all sound like a burden. But, in fact, I see it as a marvelous problem of abundance, even an embarrassment of riches. I choose to write about the associates here, in these my final set of Editor’s Notes, precisely because they remain to me, as a group and as individuals, a source of great joy and satisfaction—and of many friends as well.
On the Cover
Sara Fanelli was born in Florence, Italy. She went to London to study art and has been working there as a freelance illustrator since graduation from the Royal College of Art. She has collaborated with a diverse range of international clients, dividing her time between her book, self-generated projects, and commercial illustration commissions.
Her clients include the New Yorker, Penguin Books, Faber and Faber, Tate Modern, Tate Britain, the Victoria & Albert Museum, BBC Worldwide, the New York Times and the Royal Mail. She has written and illustrated a number of experimental children’s books for which she has won several international awards. She is the first woman illustrator to be elected Honorary Fellow of the Royal Designers for Industry (RDI).