Parnassus, a publication of the Taylor University English Department, showcases student creative writing every year in the spring. Named after a mountain in Greece where the nine muses were believed to live, Parnassus is Taylor’s official literary magazine.
Parnassus is a bit of a rarity in today’s publishing environment: an undergraduate perfect-bound print journal, featuring full-color cover art and well over a hundred pages of fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, digital reproductions of visual art, interviews, and contributor’s notes. I recently spoke with Aaron Housholder, English department member and faculty advisor to Parnassus, to get a better sense of how the journal works, and what it means to Taylor University.
Parnassus has a long-standing history.
This is the 50th anniversary edition, yes. And that will be the theme of this year’s journal.
What is the process like for the students who are working at the journal?
The students on staff run all phases of the production of our journal. During their weekly meetings, the editor and her staff generate ideas for the theme and design, the editorial policy for the year, the parameters for submissions (deadlines, methods of submission, etc.), the various forms of advertising they might use to attract submissions, how best to manage our budget, which publisher to use, and so on.
Once submissions start to come in, the staff members and the editor grade all submissions until, by consensus, the written and visual contents of the journal are selected. The staff then informs those whose work has been accepted or rejected before turning their attention to layout and copy editing matters.
All of this work culminates in our release party, generally held near the beginning of the spring semester, when the new journal is released.
I’d characterize the process these students go through as fairly intense and also quite rewarding. There is usually a strong sense of camaraderie among the staff by the time we get through the making of a journal.
What benefits do students gain from involvement?
Our students certainly learn the value of teamwork and diligence. Each student is responsible for generating ideas and then following through on those ideas. This year’s staff is comprised of eight people, including our editor; with the amount of work it takes to put this journal together, everyone has quite a load to carry. It’s gratifying, from my point of view as Advisor, to watch the students work together, to see them take the initiative to advance ideas and to make them happen, to see the pride they take in their work.
Staff members also gain valuable logistical experience as they work with publishers and Taylor administrators to make the arrangements needed for this project to succeed, as well as a ton of editing experience as they read and evaluate submissions. Though of course our students work hard in all of our classes, this may be the most hands-on course our department offers, which means that the creative and experiential benefits students gain on the staff of Parnassus are unique within our course offerings.
Many professional journals have elected to go online to save money, or have begun online in recent years as part of a sustainability plan. What are your thoughts on this?
This year’s staff and I have discussed the possibility of creating an online presence for Parnassus. Our plan is to begin by linking an online version of Parnassus 2012 to our department’s website. As long as our budget allows it, however, I believe we’ll continue to produce a print version of the journal.
Part of our desire to stay in print relates to the tradition attached to Parnassus here at Taylor. This year’s Parnassus is the 50th anniversary edition; it means a great deal to the students on staff to make their own tangible addition to that tradition. There will be great satisfaction in placing a bound copy of Parnassus 2012 in the library alongside the other bound volumes going back to 1962. There will also be great satisfaction for the students whose work is published in the print version of the journal.
Our students here at Taylor are certainly not immune to the thrill of seeing their names in print, nor should they be. While we can afford it, I’d like to see us continue adding to the tradition and the excitement of producing a print version of Parnassus.
How would you describe your own experience with the magazine?
I have loved serving as the Faculty Advisor for Parnassus. I’m amazed at the quality of the submissions we receive. I’m equally amazed at the quality of the work our students on staff can produce and the creative energy they bring to the journal.
Mostly, though, I enjoy the opportunity to work with students in this capacity because it differs so much from the work we do in other classes. Instead of being up front and directing the course, I’m free to pitch-in to this project we all share in common. It’s a rewarding to work alongside our talented students. I treasure that dynamic.
Parnassus adds something unique to our campus. How would you describe its overall presence here, for the university at large?
Within the English department, Parnassus provides our students with the unique opportunity to do the kind of hands-on work they might do later, should they choose to pursue a career in publishing or editing. The value of Parnassus to the university as a whole is much broader, however.
In past years we have received submissions from students representing every major on campus. Our submitters provide a cultural cross-section of Taylor itself. And because of our publication history, we now have a 50-year record of the creative and artistic endeavors of Taylor students. Think of the vast number and variety of historical and cultural events that have taken place since 1962 – we have a journal that has recorded some of our students’ artistic renderings of and reactions to those events. We have 50 years of the voices and visions of people who have called this place their temporary home.
When I think of our journal in those terms, I am humbled to be part of Parnassus, and grateful that we continue to offer this artistic outlet in which our students’ voices might be preserved.