Since 2012, Widener students have been attending and presenting at the Forum for Undergraduate Student Editors (FUSE) national conference. This year, students and advisors from fifteen schools from South Carolina to Pennsylvania to Michigan to California came to Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio to present on the conference theme of literary citizenship. Widener University was represented by junior English majors Emma Irving and Jennifer Rohrbach and senior creative writing and communications double major Kelsey Styles, along with creative writing professor and faculty advisor Dr. Michael Cocchiarale.
Literary citizenship is, to put it quite simply, the act of creating a more positive community with stronger writers and editors. It can also include the acts of maintaining diverse journals, teaming with other publications and organizations on campus, communicating effectively among staff and writers, and encouraging participation from all students—not just English or creative writing majors.
Working with Widener’s dedicated community of writers, editors, and readers gave me the opportunity to hone my own writing and editing skills through publications such as The Blue Route, the Blue & Gold, and Widener Ink. My three years at Widener have shaped me into a literary citizen without me even realizing it! But the literary community is so much larger than what we see on Widener’s campus. Attending FUSE at the wonderful Bowling Green State University opened my eyes to the national literary community, what it has accomplished, and what it can become.
We hit the ground running on Thursday, the first day of the conference. After a business meeting and a journal showcase, students from universities across the United States presented panels on how their schools and publications promote literary citizenship. I learned that literary citizenship is a much broader, yet more inclusive term that I’d originally thought. Anyone with a love for literature and a desire to share it can be a literary citizen. One of the most inspiring panels I attended was about representation and diversity not only in the stories published in journals and lit magazines, but also among the editors reading submissions.
On Friday, the group split up for roundtables where students from different schools could more casually discuss topics such as aesthetics and technology and advising student editors. It was a great experience to speak with students I otherwise would never have met, and it was reassuring to hear that they go through the same highs and lows with their publications that I go through with the publications I’m a part of. After the roundtables, I chose to participate in the Guerilla Poetry activity—just one of the various activities for the afternoon. A group of about 10 students and I left sheets of poetry all around Bowling Green’s campus which, for comparison’s sake, is at least three time’s Widener’s size, if not more. We got some weird looks from Bowling Green students as we stuck poetry in random books at the library and in between bike wheel spokes. But not an hour later our ‘tour guide’ Ally Butler (a student at Bowling Green and FUSE attendee) got a Snapchat from a friend who was delighted to have found a poem stuck to a tree in the middle of the quad.
While the conference itself was great, my favorite part was the new friends I made. On a campus as small as Widener’s you can see the same people every day. It was inspiring to realize that there is a community of writers and editors out there in the world who are as enthusiastic about literature as I am, and who are dedicated to instilling that enthusiasm within others to further cultivate literary citizenship.
I attended many panels about literary citizenship. The first panel I attended was run by two students from Francis Marion University in South Carolina. They talked about how to get more majors involved with the literary journals on campus. Editor-in- chief of their journal, Snow Island Review, Anna Jackson, was herself a psychology major, and used that to her advantage. During her presentation, she pulled up scientific theories of motivation, such as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and explained how she incorporated them into her campus organization. She explained that by giving editors more responsibility and making them feel like they were contributing to something important, they became more excited to work toward the common goal. Not only did meeting attendance increase for them, their submissions soared from about 75 to about 180.
The next presentation I saw was about Susquehanna University’s literary journal, Flagship. It’s a journal just for travel writing, and it’s open to all majors at their university. At Susquehanna, it’s required that all students study abroad at least once. This journal is not only a collection of some of those stories, it’s a way for students to cope with any culture shock or large experiences they were struggling with since returning from another country.
The final panel I attended before my own presentation was about representation in literature, entitled “Maintaining a Diverse Literary Community.” Camera Martin from Oakland University explained how it was the responsibility of editors to include diverse writers. Editors are the gatekeepers of media, in many cases. By opening the door to writers of color and writers of different sexualities, editors are able to create a more diverse and empathetic audience—and it is their job to do so. Her panel was fabulous. Widener followed her which was both tough because it was such a strong presentation but also a plus because she’d drawn a significant crowd. We basically had a full room to discuss how Widener contributes to literary citizenship—which we do in many ways.
There were more than just panels. I also went to a keynote speech by the very talented Karen Craigo (I know she’s very talented because I attended her reading later that day). I went to a reading by Wendell Mayo, a fascinating author with strong voice. Friday, I attended a discussion about how other schools conducted their literary journals. Widener’s literary journals are extracurricular, though the Chester Magazine had a class element to it and Professor Cocchiarale has taught a Contemporary Literary Scene class that examined current undergraduate journals including our own. All schools who participated in the discussion explained some of the benefits and the drawbacks of conducting their journals in the class format. Some schools, like Susquehanna and Widener, had several journals, and some schools, like Cabrini, only had one. Bowling Green also hosted workshops where students could either work on their writing, post poems around campus, or create their own zines.
Though I had initially been wary about the small size of the conference, FUSE 2016 was ultimately just as amazing as a large conference. I was able to make closer friendships than I would have otherwise made. It’s easier to get to know someone when you’re constantly in close proximity. At a larger conference, I might not have seen the same people twice. This FUSE, I not only saw people constantly, but by the end of the conference we had interacted so much that I could consider us friends.
If you wish to start a FUSE chapter at your undergraduate institution, check out the FUSE National website for more information: http://www.fuse-national.com/.
Written by Jennifer Rohrbach and Kelsey Styles