By Liam Bouquet
The Penguin Review, Youngstown State University’s one and only undergraduate literary magazine, has 50 years under its belt as of this year. The magazine celebrated its half-century in existence by looking back on its history with a special 50th anniversary edition of the Penguin Review, “Penguin Review: 50 Years in Review,” released on Nov. 20.
Since 1964, the Penguin Review has published the poetry, creative nonfiction and fiction of the plethora of artists and writers who have passed through the gates of YSU, and the 50th anniversary edition reprinted some of the greatest of the great works published in the magazine.
Rebecca Brown and Tom Pugh are the current co-editors, and the two took charge with preparing the 50th anniversary edition.
“We found out two weeks before our spring issue was coming out that this year was the 50th anniversary, and we were like, ‘oh no, what now?’ So we decided to do this commemorative issue. This summer we have been working on it, and then this semester,” Brown said.
Armed with two co-editors, an assistant editor and handful of other staff, the crew at the Penguin Review spent their summer collecting the past 50 years of issues and dividing them up between themselves to select their favorite pieces from the hundreds of published works.
Brown said she has probably put in a hundred-some hours into preparing for the 50th edition.
“The people who work in the archives scanned all the old books for us, and we have them on our computer. From there they got broken down into submission packets, the same way the normal submissions would. … They went through the same kind of evaluation process that we would use for a normal edition,” she said.
The standard review process was applied to the 50th edition, with editorial staff reviewing specific packets, rating them and then discussing, as a group, what should be published.
“When we receive submissions, they go to our adviser Dr. [Tiffany] Anderson. She takes anybody’s name off of it that might be on it, if they have their name included in the piece. Then, they get compiled into what we call ‘submission packets.’ Each submission packet is one genre — fiction, creative nonfiction, artwork, poetry — and we have editorial staff for each of those categories,” Brown said. “So people who are in the fiction category would receive the fiction submission with the name removed, then they go through an evaluation process where we try to decide if it is appropriate for our magazine, for our audience.”
Typically around 20 to 30 submissions are published in the annual edition of the Penguin Review. For the 50th, though, Brown estimated around 50 past pieces being used, on top of the short letters sent by past contributors and editors about their time with the magazine.
The Penguin Review worked with the YSU Alumni House to get in contact with as many past contributors and editors as possible, inviting them to return for the launch party on Nov. 20.
“We had people who responded to us who were published in the ‘80s,” Brown said. “A lot of professors in the English department were published in the Penguin Review, which is pretty exciting.”
The Penguin Review has played host to undergraduates who would go on to continue working in the world of creative writing — from Jim Villani, the owner of Pig Iron Press downtown, to nationally published writer and YSU professor Chris Barzak, to Sonnet Mondal, an Indian poet and founder of a literary magazine of his own: “The Enchanting Verses Literary Magazine.”
“[Sonnet] wanted to know if there had been any other Indian writers published in Penguin Review, in the 50 years it has been published. He wanted us to write up something for his local newspaper,” Pugh said. “His local newspaper is writing a story about Penguin Review in India.”
Both Barzak and Mondal shared their thoughts on the Penguin Review.
“I did publish a couple of poems in it, and that was a fun experience,” Barzak said. “It’s always fulfilling to see the work one makes out of anything, be it a material good or a ephemeral one, like words, made into a reality for others to consider.”
Barzak — the writer of the award-winning “One for Sorrow,” which was later turned into the film “Jamie Marks Is Dead” — added that these student-run literary magazines are not just a boon for the students they publish, but also for the students who throw their time and energy behind them.
“It gives students experience in putting together a magazine, period, which entails learning about branding, audience awareness, selection of appropriate content, copyediting skills, design and layout skills, and publicity,” he said. “Beyond these practical skill sets that students may acquire or sharpen by working on a literary magazine, it provides people with a communal experience. Those who create the magazine are learning how to work with others on one particular thing, and go through their labors together. This kind of teamwork experience is something they can take into almost any field they may later enter in life after college.”
Mondal, who will be featured in the 50th edition, praised the journal highly and said it has remained a staple of his biography years later.
“The Penguin Review has always been published with a discerning eye and seems to navigate our thoughts through the true sense of understanding and enjoying poetry rather than focusing upon predictable images,” Mondal said. “For me the Penguin Review has been a focus in my bios in almost all the magazines I have been featured in, and the name that has been surviving for 50 years has considerably shifted the spotlight many times upon me. The magazine has an international presence beyond the fences and books of the Youngstown State University.”
Tiffany Anderson, the adviser for the Penguin Review and a professor of English, reflected the sentiments of both Barzak and Mondal.
“I just think it is invaluable for writers to know that there are others like me. Beyond that, of course, the staff has the opportunity to understand what is going on behind the scenes of a print journal. Where I went to school in undergrad, it was a private liberal arts school. It didn’t have anything like Penguin Review, so it is kind of a remarkable thing that it even exists,” Anderson said. “I think that there are lots and lots of writers who see writing as a private, solitary practice. By having this journal, it makes it something public and, at the same time, creating a community of writers on campus.”
She added that the Penguin Review would not be having a 50th anniversary without the co-editors Brown and Pugh.
“When they came to me, there was no Penguin Review anymore. Originally Penguin Review was a part of CLASS and so they had funding every single year for the publication of the Penguin Review. But then in May of 2013, the funding was pulled from the Penguin Review. They came up to me,” she said. “The only reason, last year, the journal came out is because Rebecca and Tom — they refused to say it was over, so they found a way. This year would not have happened; it would have always been a 49.”
The Penguin Review now runs on the fundraising that Anderson, Brown and Pugh can collect, through grants, donations, Student Government Association and fundraising events. Even though the editorial staff is no longer paid, the team’s efforts have granted The Penguin Review its 50th anniversary.
“Being able to show people, other than your family, ‘Hey look what I can do. I can write this,’ and being able to hand out physical copies of something that you have done is one of the greatest feelings in the world,” Pugh said.