Onion River Review launches with online version
Amid pandemic realities, editorial team of Saint Michael's annual student literary and art journal wanted to be sure this rich collection of student work could be appreciated, even absent the popular launch party and a hard-copy version to take in hand
About this time last April, the exuberant and keenly anticipated annual celebration of creativity that is the Onion River Review launch party in Hoehl Welcome Center was a junior-year highlight for Ariel Wish ’20 and her fellow “core editors” of Saint Michael’s College’s student literary magazine, which also showcases student visual art.
In normal years, contributors at the launch finally get to see their work in print as newly published editions of the Review get passed around among the energized crowd that gathers in the comfy living room fireplace area of Hoehl. Poets and artists take turns reading from their work, describing their paintings or photographs, and sharing refreshments and warm camaraderie. More than one contributor described it as their favorite evening of the year.
Wish, a Review core editor both last year and again this year, admits the experience has suddenly changed a lot because of the COVID-19 epidemic that sent everybody home early this semester. Undeterred by the upheaval, however, the Review editorial team last week posted a copy of the Review online. It still faithfully reflects the intended print original in its layout and graphic appearance with pages to “turn” with clicks, and they hope the wider community spends time appreciating all that went into the work it contains. Read the Onion River Review online here.
They also hope that eventually at least some print copies can be made for posterity, Wish said — though at the moment, they have neither the practical printing means nor the budget to make that happen since the Student Government Association funds that typically support the printing of about 1,000 copies are frozen for the time being due to the pandemic and absence of SGA members to properly allocate funds.
The Review’s faculty adviser Greg Delanty of the English faculty said on April 8, however that he’d learned the VanderHeyden Fund will cover the costs of printing copies “just for the editors, the library, the VandeHeydens, and one or two Higher Ups.” Delanty also said that Jeffrey Trumbower, vice president for academic affairs, has been “a great help through this whole process.”
The baton of faculty adviser guidance of the Review at last year’s festive launch was passed on from the journal’s retiring beloved longtime godfather, Will Marquess of the English faculty, to his colleague, faculty poet Delanty, who this year found himself relying more on the student staff than was true in recent past years, to keep submissions and selections moving along through earlier established technological channels unfamiliar to him.
To help, student editor Kevin Jeter’20 voluntarily took on the task of collecting the many electronically submitted offerings and passing them on anonymously to the students making selections, who including Wish along with her co-editors, Brenna Broderick, Emelia Aiken-Hafner, Miranda Maiorino and Ellen Arvidson. As is customary, they reviewed submissions anonymously so as to judge each work on its artistic merits without personal friendships or other factors being undue influences. Thankfully, pretty much all of that selecting and the thoughtful laying out of pages already had happened when the coronavirus pandemic hit in early March forcing everyone had to leave campus unexpectedly, Wish said.
Speaking by phone from isolation at home in Colchester recently during a break between her several online classes she needs to complete in order to wrap up her senior year as an English major so she can graduate in May, Wish said she and her editorial colleagues really missed the launch party and the feel of holding the printed journal in their hands. They still look forward to the now likely eventual print run of maybe 100 copies for the editors and contributors and library archives.
The beautiful newly posted volume includes color and black and white visual works alternating with poems or stories from, not only students, but also a strong representation from former or current faculty in staff, such as regular poet Buff Lindau, who is the retired marketing director and has made many submissions through the years; or a piece from Environmental Studies Professor Trevien Stanger, or a powerful and stark poem from English Professor Bob Niemi about his recent ongoing battle with cancer.
This year’s edition, like last year’s, is 96 pages, and the new edition’s cover is a striking color portrait photograph of an elderly Moroccan bookseller that journalism student Stephen Higgins took during his time studying abroad in Morocco (see at top right).
Ariel Wish said finishing up with her Onion River duties has been a balancing act with her online classes as she takes them from home in Colchester. “I have two English classes with Professor Nat Lewis – “Literature and Animals” and a Senior Year Seminar with him and I’m halfway through that seminar thesis so I’ve been head-deep in that; then there’s Music Theory II with Fine Arts/Music Professor Bill Ellis and “Saints and Holiness” with Religious Studies Professor Ray Patterson,” she said.
Wish said Zoom meetings and “Echo 360” videos are playing a role in many of the classes, which is an adjustment. “It’s going all right though I wish at the moment I could just focus on finishing my thesis,” she said. “But we all realize as seniors that we need to finish up our classes to graduate.”
As to the Onion River Review and the sudden course-change in its final production and dissemination phases, she said: “Basically what happened was that we finished all our editorial meetings well before we left campus and all this coronavirus thing happened, and were ready to go, so it just needed to be printed–that was the last thing, and the release party was supposed to be the week we come back from spring break.” The posting of the Review online somewhat took the place of that occasion as a milestone moment at least.
Wish said the editorial team included three English majors (herself being one), two art majors and a media studies, journalism and digital arts major — helpful since submissions go beyond only stories or poetry to include photos and visual art.
She likes knowing as a senior that alumni are welcome to submit work to the Onion River Review along with current students and other community members.
“Next year, I think they hope to have a publishing intern position to handle some of the practical things Kevin Jeter did this year,” Wish said. “It will be interesting to see what next year’s Review turns out to be, especially with everybody’s experiences with the coronavirus and how that might find expression. I know I’m writing a journal about it every day and hope to form that into some sort of creative work, and my friend is using this time to sit in her room and paint since she is a really good artist. I feel this time is definitely pushing people to get their creative juices going.”
The editors’ note that opens this year’s Review is poignant, especially under the unexpected circumstances that have come to define the last semester for the many seniors among them. In part it reads: “The Onion harvest took time and lots of it. We traced ourselves backwards into childhood, slipped through photographs of days gone by, and layered evolution with nostalgia. Every year the Onion tells a new story, and this issue is ripe for the reading. In a complicated time to be alive, this little corner of art and words that we dig up is a time to pause and connect with fellow human beings, and all of our places in the world …. 2020 feels like both the beginning and end of something great.”