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Editor Interview: The Awakenings Review

Q: Describe what you publish in 25 characters or less.

A: Mental illness literature

Q: What other current publications (or publishers) do you admire most?

A: We are most taken with the works of poets and writers found in The Kenyon Review published at Kenyon College. The concept of The Awakenings Review was taken from its pages. We also admire The Sewanee Review published at The University of the South.

Q: If you publish writing, who are your favorite writers? If you publish art, who are your favorite artists?

A: Our favorite writers and poets come from the pages of The Awakenings Review including Bibhu Padhi, Roddy Williams, Nnadi Samuel, Mari-Carmen Marin, and Zan Bockes. There are scores of others.

Q: What sets your publication apart from others that publish similar material?

A: There are only a few other literary journals that we're aware of that publish the works of poets and writers with mental illnesses. This is our cause and this sets The Awakenings Review apart from other literary journals that sometimes have no clear mission. The Awakenings Review is a hard copy annual publication that draws writers and poets from around the globe who have what we refer to as a “relationship” with mental illness: either self, family member, or friend. Writers and poets come to us with a variety of mental health conditions which they often share—we read their personal stories with compassion and concern. Not surprisingly some writers and poets find us after having been excluded from other literary journals for writing about these stigmatized conditions.

Q: What is the best advice you can give people who are considering submitting work to your publication?

A: First of all, don’t think that your work has to elaborate on your mental illness in order to grab our attention. Many writers and poets who we publish write about subjects that are distant from their personal experience with mental illness. We do, however, encourage a writer or a poet to at least mention their story of mental illness in a cover letter, and if accepted, we ask that their relationship with mental illness be at least mentioned in the biography which we publish with their work. We encourage potential writers and poets to read our submission guidelines to gain a solid idea of how we prefer their work to be submitted. Most of all, know that The Awakenings Review is a place where your experience with mental illness can be shared and understood by editors who have been through the same turmoil, and a readership that is concerned and sympathetic.

Q: Describe the ideal submission.

A: Our ideal submission comes to us through email with a cover letter that is personable and that lets us at least have a glimpse of their struggle with mental illness. After that, we like to see poetry that is creative, meaningful, and original. We like to see stories with focus that draw a reader in. We like to see essays that are edifying and inventive. Technically, we like to see submissions that adhere to our submission guidelines and demonstrate that the writer or poet has an understanding of our mission. We love to see material that brings us fresh perspectives on mental illness, and inventive ways of expressing its many facets.

Q: What do submitters most often get wrong about your submissions process?

A: Submissions we don’t like to see have some common characteristics: there is no cover letter or at least a slipshod letter that tells us nothing about the writer; a poet will send us only one short poem when our submission guidelines clearly state that they submit a small body of their work; poetry that is unoriginal and cliché; stories that don’t draw you in or are unfocused and meandering; a submission that clearly indicates that the submitter has not read through our submission guidelines.

Q: How much do you want to know about the person submitting to you?

A: We want to know more than do many other literary journals. Simply speaking, we want to know the writer’s or poet’s relationship to mental illness: self, family member, or friend. We ask that our submitters share this with us and be willing to let us at least mention it in their biography. Some writers and poets have found this awkward but those who reach out to us knowing our mission do not shy from sharing this information. This is what we’re about.

Q: If you publish writing, how much of a piece do you read before making the decision to reject it?

A: Only on occasion have writers, who ignore our submission guidelines, sent us more material than we read (we have a maximum of 5,000 words for a story or essay and no more than 4-6 poems). We read all the poetry that sent to us and all of the short stories or essays that run under the 5,000-word limit. If a submission is squarely unpublishable we might read only several pages before making that decision.

Q: What additional evaluations, if any, does a piece go through before it is accepted?

A: This is our system: when a submission comes to us, I immediately send it to one of our editors who reads it and determines straight-away if it is or is not publishable. If it is not publishable we tell the submitter that we are declining the piece within 3-5 days. If it is deemed publishable, then the piece goes into our database and over a course of weeks, it is sent to at least 2 other readers before a final decision is made. If it is accepted, we inform the submitter when that happens.

Q: What is a day in the life of an editor like for you?

A: While we hold ourselves to professional standards, The Awakenings Review is an all-volunteer organization. Most of the readers and editors, including myself, work jobs outside of the journal. So during my days, I log into The Awakenings Review email in the morning before work and in the afternoon after work. From there I forward new submission to our readers and editors, update our database, and forward submissions that are in contention to editors and readers until three decisions are made on each piece. Aside from editing work, I work with the staff of our larger organization, The Awakenings Project, on fundraising, managing subscriptions, and production and fulfillment of the journal.

Q: How important do you feel it is for publishers to embrace modern technologies?

A: Admittedly, The Awakenings Review was slow to embrace modern technology. For many years we relied on receiving hardcopy submissions through the mails and assembling groups of local editors to evaluate them. While we still allow hardcopy submissions, 95% of our editing is now done with modern technology. We have devised a system where we nearly completely work online, forwarding emailed submissions to editors and readers, managing a database, and using print-on-demand technology to print the journal. Now, online editing is crucial to us, allowing us to work with editors, writers, and poets throughout the U.S., and around the globe, really.

Q: How much do you edit an accepted piece prior to publication?

A: For reasons of our limited staff, we do a very little editing of material that comes to us. We feel the writer and poet have carefully composed their work and we don't have the resources to advise changes. So, except for proofreading, if they are accepted, a writer or poet's work will appear in the journal as is.

Q: Do you nominate work you've published for any national or international awards?

A: No. Not yet.