Rebecca Morgan Frank
In Conversation with Kallie Falandays
Rebecca Morgan Frank is the author of the forthcoming The Spokes of Venus and Little Murders Everywhere. In addition to being a 2013 Kate Tufts Discovery Award finalist, she received the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award for her next manuscript-in-progress. Her poems, essays, and stories have recently appeared in such places as Ploughshares, New England Review, Harvard Review, Verse Daily, and many more places. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Virginia Center for Creative Arts and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. The co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online magazine Memorious, she is an assistant professor at the Center for Writers, University of Southern Mississippi’s graduate creative writing program. Below, she discusses what she looks for in a manuscript, the inception and future of Memorius, and the upbringing that made her into a writer and editor.
KF: Why did you start Memorious?
RMF: In 2003, a classmate and I were graduating from Emerson’s MFA program, and we realized we would be leaving behind the great journals there. (I was assistant poetry editor of Beacon Street Review, which is now Redivider, and he was a reader at Ploughshares.) I knew that I wanted to be a poetry editor, and that if I wanted to be able to make editorial decisions, I’d need to start my own journal rather than intern somewhere. Rob Arnold, Brian Green and I founded Memorious in 2004, and within five years Rob and Brian had both moved on to other projects, but I stayed on.
KF: What is the worst part about running a literary journal?
RMF: Finding enough time to give it the attention it deserves! Like many editors, I also have a fulltime job that keeps me busy- I’m an assistant professor at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Writers.
KF: What is the most memorable poem/prose/fiction piece you've published?
RMF: It’s impossible to pick favorites! There are so many pieces I love, and each time we move on to a new issue I gain new favorites. One thing I like about editing an online journal is that thanks to our online archives, all issues remain current issues.
KF: Where do you see Memorious in 5 years?
RMF: Alive and well, I hope. I hope we continue to draw the best emerging writers and to expand our audience. I also would like to expand our art song contest, for which we bring together a composer and a poet to create an original work to be both performed and recorded. Those concerts- the last one was held at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago- have been the most meaningful experiences I have had as an editor. I would like to give more poets the opportunity to hear their work set and performed. It is magical.
KF: What is a day-in-the-life like for the editors of Memorious?
RMF: Our editors are spread across the country, leading different lives. My own editor life gets squeezed into my teaching day: often the work of the magazine happens in coffee shops or late nights or early mornings in my home office.
KF: What kind of work are you looking to publish?
RMF: I always want to answer this question with “the best work,” because I do think that is the most genuine answer, particularly in terms of what we take from the open submissions. Or maybe I’ll quote Emily Dickinson, “ "If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way?” I’m always looking to feel that; I want to find the work that I can’t stop thinking about after a first read. As the person who has selected all of our poetry over the years–with the help of assistant poetry editor Matt McBride from 2009-2014, and a handful of poetry readers over the last few years–- I certainly have my tastes. I tend to be drawn to very lyrical work, and it usually leans toward the serious. But I like to think there’s a bit of a range, and that we remain open to different kinds of work. The readers help me notice work I might have overlooked. I hope writers will continue to surprise us.
We have a new set of fiction editors, Ian Stansel and Joanna Luloff, who both first came to us as contributors. I think we’ll see the fiction section evolving based on their interests as editors.
KF: What advice do you have for people looking to publish?
RMF: I think the advice tends to always be the same on this, so forgive me if it is a little obvious: Send your best work. Know the journals you are submitting to– don’t send to places where you don’t like the work, or where the work is in some obvious way at odds with your own. Follow the submission guidelines. Know that editors are doing their best to support submitters and contributors.
KF: What are you currently reading?
RMF: Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, Teresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee, and 12 Women: an anthology of poems, a new anthology from Carnegie Mellon University Press.
KF: What is your literary background like? What got you interested in starting a literary journal?
RMF: I grew up in a house without television and with walls full of books, and we lived blocks from the public library in Charlottesville, VA. I walked there almost every day from the age of eight, and I became friends with the children’s librarian. Three English and creative writing degrees later, I am now a college professor. The road to being an editor was paved with books. And more books! Being an editor is a way to get to read exciting new work.
KF: What are your favorite literary journals?
RMF: Oh, this is a tough one. There are so many I love. The Cincinnati Review is fantastic: it’s a journal that really is strong in both poetry and fiction. I really like the poetry being published in 32 Poems and in the Southern Indiana Review these days. Guernica is amazing. I have a special place in my heart for the Boston journals: Ploughshares, Agni, Salamander, Harvard Review, Post Road, because they taught me to love the literary journal. I’m also excited to see what Rick Barot does as the new poetry editor of The New England Review- my issue just arrived today. I also need to give a shout out to my graduate students Zachary Williams and Sara Lewis, who redesigned our in-house online literary journal, Product, in my publishing class. While the most innovative part of the design work they did has now been taken offline, they let me see the way of the future, and I can’t wait to see the magazines the next generation will go on to start. They've also inspired me to consider how Memorious's future redesign might look someday.
KF: What is the best way for a small literary journal to get noticed?
RMF: Publish good work. I think our readership has evolved from the work that we publish: as our writers have gone on to have success, we have appeared in their acknowledgments and on their websites, and I believe that has helped us draw in other good writers.
And be active in both your local community and the larger literary community. Support and befriend other journals. Partner up with journals and different organizations that support the arts. It’s also all more fun that way!
KF: If you could take over and run any literary journal, which would you take over and why?
RMF: Memorious, ten years ago. I would have all of the experience of the last decade to take into running it.
KF: What is the weirdest type of literary advice you’ve ever received?
RMF: Being told I couldn’t write about something because I wasn’t old enough (this was back in my early twenties). I try to never limit my students in terms of subjects: as Victor Hugo says, “There are no good subjects or bad subjects, there are only good poets and bad poets.” And being a bad poet, is, I believe, something we can all grow out of at any age.