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U. of I. magazine named 'Best New Literary Journal'

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor


Jodee Stanley
Click photo to enlarge
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
The Ninth Letter, edited by Jodee Stanley, has been named the “Best New Literary Journal” by the Council of Editors of Learned Journals, an allied organization of the Modern Language Association.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The young and highly experimental literary magazine produced at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has won a prestigious literary award.

Ninth Letter, published by the English department in collaboration with the School of Art and Design, has been named “Best New Literary Journal” by the Council of Editors of Learned Journals, an allied organization of the Modern Language Association. The council comprises more than 450 editors of scholarly journals devoted to study in the humanistic disciplines and is the major national organization dedicated to supporting academic journal publishing in the humanities.

Jodee Stanley, the editor of Ninth Letter, accepted the award at MLA’s annual meeting, in Washington, D.C., in late December.

The competition was open to “belletristic” (literary arts) journals first published between 2003 and 2005. The first issue of Ninth Letter was published in April 2004; the fourth issue was published last month. Journals must be “affirming of learned and aesthetic traditions and mission-driven to publish high-quality literary arts”; have a circulation of under 10,000 copies; and be affiliated with an academic institution, have independent non-profit status or be financially self-supporting. Ninth Letter is funded by the U. of I.

The inaugural issue of Ninth Letter won gold medals for Best Cover Design and Best Overall Design in the 2004 Annual Design Competition of the University and College Designers Association. Several contributors have won awards for their pieces, and many pieces have been selected for inclusion in prestigious anthologies.

The MLA award, like the awards that Ninth Letter previously won, “provides national recognition for the innovative design and the high quality literature and visual art that have made the magazine an overnight sensation; but it also emphasizes the integral place both Ninth Letter and the MFA program have within our department,” said Martin Camargo, the head of the U. of I. English department. “A major award from the MLA reminds us that all of our faculty and students share in the glory that comes from Ninth Letter’s excellence.”

Veteran and new talent are being published in Ninth Letter, including Pulitzer Prize-winner Robert Olen Butler; Dave Eggers – an Illinois alumnus and New York Times best-selling author; and Ann Beattie. The magazine’s editorial staff members are affiliated with the English department’s creative writing programs, and the design team comprises faculty and students in the School of Art and Design.

According to Stanley, the magazine’s “defining principle” remains the same today as it was at its founding: “We believe that literature and art reflect an ongoing dialogue; nothing is created in a void, and therefore, stories, poems, essays, visual arts and other forms of expression all speak to one another, reflect one another in some way.”

Stanley sees the design elements in Ninth Letter as “works of art in themselves,” but they also “serve to illuminate themes in the magazine that might not be obvious at first glance, giving our readers the opportunity to contemplate writing and art in new ways.”

What Ninth Letter is doing in terms of design is “clearly a major leap for a literary magazine – there are only a handful that are doing anything similar,” Stanley said.

“But what gives us the winning edge, especially in terms of this award, is the commitment of our staff to presenting the best possible work to our readers. Across the board, every person involved in Ninth Letter strives to find the best writing to publish in our pages. A lot of people and a lot of tastes are involved, but rather than let that pull us apart, we use our differences as an opportunity to broaden the magazine’s range and to expose each other to new ideas.”