In Praise of Front Matter, Wherever It May Be

by Elizabeth Lutyens, Editor in Chief

Heather Newton and Terry Roberts (top row), Wiley Cash and Mayredeth Burrell (bottom row) are interview subjects featured in current and past issues of The Great Smokies Review.

Heather Newton and Terry Roberts (top row), Wiley Cash and Mayredeth Burrell (bottom row) are interview subjects featured in current and past issues of The Great Smokies Review.

Spring 2014 marks the five-year birthday of The Great Smokies Review. A group of Great Smokies Writing Program students met in April 2009 with Executive Director Tommy Hays to plan a first-time literary publication. We decided immediately that this would be an online effort, for the disparate reasons of ease and environmentalism. There would be two issues per year, coinciding with the fall and spring semesters at UNC Asheville. We spent longer coming up with a name, and after researching existing literary publications in Western North Carolina and finding no similarity, we were unanimously happy with The Great Smokies Review.

What exactly were we to be? In this e-age, any group (or individual for that matter) can throw up a website, call for submissions, and post selected works. Wishing to be something more, our publication would honor the best of the Great Smokies Writing Program and the Master of Liberal Arts Program, a selection of student writing nominated by faculty. A best-of-the-best selection actually, because GSWP and MLA students are, by self-selection, a dedicated and accomplished bunch.

We wanted to offer even more, using the resources of GSWP, UNC Asheville, and the vibrant Asheville/WNC writing community. Therefore, in addition to the student prose and poetry, each issue would also contain features of various kinds solicited from faculty and program graduates.

These features would be informative as well as entertaining, pieces that the reader might find helpful to his own writing or applicable to his own thoughts about the writing life. We began with a handful of categories, which has expanded over the years to a half dozen: Reflection, an anything-goes creative nonfiction piece; Interview, a profile of a published writer from the wider WNC area; Writer at Work, thoughts from a writer with a notable non-writing life; Craft Session, a mini-lesson from a member of GSWP faculty; Fit To Print, news from our writing community; and Editor’s Choice, a selection from submissions in the current issue by a guest editor accompanied by an essay explaining her pick.

For lack of a better term, we named these feature writings “Front Matter.” Someone suggested that “Departments” would be more accurate, because front matter in a magazine is generally limited to the masthead, table of contents, editor’s note, etc. However, “Front Matter” stuck—even when we realized that student writing should come first. Therefore, what we refer to fondly as Front Matter actually comes at the end.

Because these features set our Review apart from most online literary publications, it seems fitting to highlight them as we celebrate our fifth year of existence. A sampling from this issue:

Reflection. Fiction writer Jennifer McLean presents “Dress Your Darlings,” a rumination on her self-publishing journey. She writes, “In writers’ workshops there will always be someone who admonishes you to ‘kill your darlings.’ But the first time I heard it, my reaction was NO! I will not kill my darlings! I will put a coat and hat on each of them, shoes on their feet, shove some sandwiches in their pockets, give them my blessing, send them out into the night with half a chance! It occurred to me that this was not only a stylistic school of thought but could, in fact, be my Marketing Plan.”

Craft Session. Tina Barr, poet and GSWP faculty member, discusses the power of juxtaposition. “Juxtaposition, like metaphor, thrills us because it allows us to compare or view one thing with or against another, enriching the way we see.” And with this power, “poems can go into the neglected places inside us, and stir up the pool. That’s what we want, really, to be undone.” The Great Smokies Review archives is a gold mine of craft sessions. For example, go there for Christine Hale’s clever prescription for avoiding coincidence in fiction or for Marjorie Klein’s tips for keeping the drama in and melodrama out of your writing.

Writer at Work. Terry Gess, studio potter and teacher, examines the seeming contradiction between working with clay and with words: “One is all water and mud, all collaboration with natural forces that, on their own, sputter and foam, ooze and crystallize beneath my feet some twenty miles under the crust of the earth, while the other takes place inside the confines of my small, hard-shelled brain.”

Editor’s Choice. Our newest Front Matter feature, with fiction writer and teacher Cathy Agrella as our first Guest Editor, highlights a poet and a fiction writer from the current issue. Unlike the Academy Awards process, our “judges” not only name the winner, they also tell us why. Cathy’s essay is a winner in its own right—a study in thoughtful, and highly readable, literary analysis.

Interviews. In this issue, our Managing Editor Marie Hefley guides Terry Roberts, UNC Asheville graduate and Willie Morris Award winning author of A Short Time To Stay Here (Ingalls), through a consideration of “what keeps your heart and soul in the game.” Marie interviewed best-selling author Wiley Cash—also a UNC A graduate and the 2013 Thomas Wolfe Literary Award winner—for the fall 2013 issue. (See Archives for the complete Interview list.) Two other interview subjects are Heather Newton, an Asheville attorney and author of Under the Mercy Trees (HarperCollins), the 2011 Thomas Wolfe Literary Award winning novel; and Maryedith Burrell, a film and television producer, writer, actress and comedian, whose credits include recurring roles on “Seinfeld.” Heather and Maryedith have been contributors to the Review as well.

These interview subjects are pictured above. All four faces tell the story of this publication: everything for, everything by, a writing community that is as impassioned as it is unique.

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