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Hoosier Journal Spotlight: Booth and “How to Make a Beginning” by Aubrey Ryan

This spring, Indiana Review conducted interviews with other Indiana journals. We were driven by a few questions:  What does it mean to be a Midwestern or Hoosier journal? What does it mean to be a member of a literary community? What are our Hoosier neighbors up to? What do they seek for their publications?

Robert Stapleton, Founder and Editor of Booth, which is published out of Butler University in Indianapolis, IN, was kind enough to answer a few questions for our final installment for the spring semester. We talked about Booth‘s namesake, the literary community in Butler University and Indianapolis, and enduring advice from William Faulkner. Be sure to check out a gorgeous poem, “How to Make a Beginning” by Aubrey Ryan, at the end!

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1. What do you consider to be the mission of Booth?

A: To publish beautiful, challenging, and arresting literature.

B: To offer writers and artists a terrific home that champions their work in elegant, print editions.

C: To celebrate the extraordinary culture and community emanating from the Butler MFA program. We have a staff of about twenty grad students, and they execute almost every facet of the project.

2. As a journal publishing out of a Midwestern or Indiana university, how much does a Midwestern or Hoosier identity factor into the conception of the journal?

We discussed this issue quite a bit back in 2009 before deciding upon a name or aesthetic impulse. As a community we love the vibrancy, diversity, and dynamic culture of Indianapolis. Booth lauds all the richness of Indy as an urban space with eclectic voices. Of course, we don’t have to publish just Indiana writers for this to be true. We are curated by many Indiana writers, native and transplant.

Now, we love classic narratives and stories, as Faulkner said, “the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat,” but we also embrace narrative hearts that are rich in concept, inventive forms, pieces that celebrate the creative possibilities of storytelling.

Yes, we are named after Booth Tarkington, who lived in the neighborhood of Butler University. And we are also named after every booth in the world, a space for gathering, connection and community, intimacy and retreat, human breath arriving and moving together.  We always work to contain multitudes.

3. If you had to describe the current aesthetic of Booth in 5 or fewer words, what would they be? Why?

The narrative heart made new.

We love stories and storytelling, of course. And we love writers in control of their craft, writers who understand that every narrative, whether in the form of a poem or comic or list or whatever, can in its own way evoke and defamiliarize and render beautiful the human experience. We have published board game directions and greeting card designs and a fictional New York Times Bestsellers list and found lists from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and so many more that both embrace and interrogate the idea of “story.”

4. Can you tell us more about the inner workings of the journal?

Advanced-level MFA students that have worked on the magazine for at least a year serve as section editors (Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry). They build teams of readers and work through the blind submissions together. At the end of every month, each editor nominates the most intriguing work their staff has seen. The whole staff reads all nominated work, usually around 100 pages or so, and on the second Monday of every month, we gather for dinner and then a 3-hour debate about which of these to publish, if any. These conversations are terrifically vibrant and educational. And for an MFA student, these intense exchanges about what to publish or not, and why, offer incredible value as they consider sending their own work out into the world.

The print issues come together through a smaller group of editors. Around five of us discuss art and concept and execute design and copy edits and page proofs for authors and so on and so on. Only one person works on the magazine in any capacity who is not a current Butler MFA student, or recent MFA alum, and that is me.

5. What does “literary community” mean to you?

To work on the daily to elevate the projects and prospects for those surrounding you. Here’s an example of the Butler MFA community: Just last week we celebrated the first published book to come out of the program: Red Hen Press is publishing Doug Manuel’s poetry collection Testify in April. Doug was both a poetry editor and managing editor for Booth. Currently he is in the PhD program at USC. We flew him back here, gave him the full visiting writer treatment, and packed the Efroymson Center for Creative Writing with over 70 people the night of the reading. The bookstore sold out of books that night, and Doug stayed and signed copies for 90 minutes after the reading. This is how you build a literary community; you elevate those around you who are passionately laboring.

6. What do you and your staff envision in the future for Booth?

A new website, beautiful print issues, more killer stories and poems, celebrations of women and under-represented voices, more national recognition, and a damn good time making these things happen within our community.

7. Care to share a sample of your favorite work that you’ve published?

I’d like to offer you around 200 pieces here. When I consider a writer that I feel both lucky to have published as well as one that I’d like to see more of in the world, I end up back at the poems of Aubrey Ryan. We’ve published a few of her poems, but this one destroys me every time.

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How to Make a Beginning

Aubrey Ryan

Wedding gowns are hard to sink
in creeks. They float downstream

like bloated geese. They sag
in knuckled reeds along the bank.

Pretend that it’s a skin. Pretend
that it’s the slit belly of a wolf

and lay the pebbles in. Then tie the sleeves
and tie the hem, and let the grey weight

take it down. Be naked as a fish
when you return to town, and take

the thick church steps
two at a time. It’s true:

your guests will gawk. But you are day
and peonies. You curl like lichen: fierce

and tight and singing alleluias
to the dirt. They say a bride

can see the next tornado
in her dreams. They say

we let the wind loose in our blood. To wash
us new, they say we’ll have to wait for flood.

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