A journal doesn’t need to be beautiful, though if it is, that’s cool. It just needs to look interesting, to look as if someone cared. Anything beyond that is cool too, but more than the minimum journal requirement. As I went from table to table at AWP, two kinds of ugly journals stood out. When the bright white paper is so overly white and bright that it shines like an interrogation lamp, then it’s a loser in my eyes (or blog). A journal also falls apart, in my eyes (or book or blog), if it looks like an ordinary computer printout. You can do any kind of design with a Mac, or so I suppose, and I love Macs, but the hard work of writing and editing can go for naught when a journal looks as if were made by an unadventurous amateur on a Mac—in 1995.
That’s not to say things have to get fancy and pricey. Imaginative designers sometimes do just as well on a small (or smallish) budget as on a big budget, and sometimes they do better, since big budgets can lead to overproduction.
Apart from the way bright white paper and the unwittingly vintage Mac dullness, things looked eclectic, and some of the journals were gorgeous or epi-cool. They ranged from handmade to glossy, but usually they came in at dozens of quirky or tastefully understated places between those extremes. I also got a kick out of the t-shirts emblazoned with expressions like “Forthcoming” or “Pushcart Nominee.” I got a kick out of talking with editors and running into friends. But I didn’t wear my nametag. I don’t like trying (or seeming to try) to push myself on editors. I’d rather let the work make its own path (or cul de sac). I’m not sure I got a kick out of the poetry readings on little video screens in the Hilton elevators, but I got a kick out of watching people in the elevators listen to them or mock them or try to ignore them. Some of the elevators gave people a scare by wobbling. Maybe some of these things will end up in a story or a novel (or a blog).
Many editors or their assistants worked hard to drum up interest or conversation. I had fun with the banter. But at one journal I like very much, the lone person behind the table buried their head in a book. Even when I stopped at the table, they didn’t look up. I was so stunned that I couldn’t bring myself to interrupt their reading and say hello. Maybe they were just filling in while the actual editor headed to the washroom or a panel or ate lunch. That would explain it.
Here’s an idea. I’ll dig up the editor’s name online and Google image them to see if it was the person behind the table, and surely it won’t be. Here goes: Suspense.
Did it. And it really was the editor of the journal. Maybe they were under the Chicago weather. Why travel a long way at great expense and set up a beautiful table (and it was a beautiful table) to show your wonderful journal and then work so hard to avoid all contact with people? I’m not trying to be flip: I really wonder what this person was thinking and bet that it would be interesting to hear this person’s off-the-track perspective. I should have asked if it was a good book.