Finding a new beloved author and devouring everything he or she has written is exciting. So is adding a book to one’s top five, wait, top 10, OK, top 20 list of “best books ever.”
But sifting through bestseller lists or taking off-base recommendations from friends and family gets tiresome. And how to find the newcomers, the undiscovered gems? A literary magazine is a near-perfect way to get exposure to a variety of bite-sized writings, try out unusual genres and discover new scribes.
Blue Mesa Review is a nonprofit literary compilation produced annually by a staff of 20 to 40, mostly comprised of volunteer graduate students from UNM’s Creative Writing Program. Founded in 1989, the Blue Mesa features short works of fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry and is the size of a large paperback book. Anyone may submit pieces—during an ongoing submission cycle—as long as the material is previously unpublished.
Each year, professional writers judge the submissions and decide which will get published. Blue Mesa staff also contributes interviews and other tidbits. Though fresh talents comprise the bulk of the book, contributions aren’t limited to unknowns. And many featured in Blue Mesa’s pages, such as Rudolfo Anaya and Anis Shivani, are quite well known. A rotating editorial board within the staff has helped keep the book fresh through 24 issues.
Suzanne Richardson is an MFA candidate in fiction writing and the editor in chief of the Blue Mesa Review. By phone, she reveals some of the highlights of the newly published Issue 24, including two interviews with award-winning, high-profile authors. One is with the feminist novelist and poet Dorothy Allison. The second picks the brain of Gary Shteyngart, most recognized for his satirical novel Absurdistan (Random House, 2006).
Though fresh talents comprise the bulk of the book, contributions aren’t limited to unknowns. And many featured in Blue Mesa ’s pages, such as Rudolfo Anaya and Anis Shivani, are quite well known.
At the heart of the issue is a new piece by prominent Latino author Stephen Gutierrez, who won the American Book Award for his short story collection Live From Fresno y Los (Bear Star Press, 2009). “And in this issue,” Richardson says, “for the first time ever, we have an international submission.” The trailblazing contributor is from London.
Pick up a copy of Issue 24 at the release party at The Normal Gallery. The celebration will feature readings from the issue, as well as Danny Solis and Richard Vargas performing their own work. Pieces by visual artist Travis Bruce Black, who designed the cover, will be hanging in the gallery during the party.
The Blue Mesa staff is asking guests to pay a door charge of $5 to receive a back copy or $10 for the newbie. Part of the revenue will go toward hiring personnel to help Blue Mesa expand on the web. Next year the board hopes to produce two issues, one online and one in print, each with different content.
Despite the addition of an electronic version, Richardson doesn’t think the publication will shift away from tangible books. She says a majority of the staff feels passionate about hard copies, that the experience of holding a book—its smell, feel and weight—can’t be replaced. “There’s a circuit that happens when you open a book and you’re sucked in,” Richardson says. “We’re a fan of books as objects as well as the content.” In response to many literary magazines going exclusively online, last year’s issue was a flip-book. It had an A side and a B side, and to access content on one or the other, readers had to flip it over. The design was the staff’s way of demanding physical interaction with the magazine.
Issue 24 has no overarching theme, but variety is important to the staff. Traditional and experimental works are featured. “We were interested in really challenging people’s aesthetic,” Richardson says. “Something that I personally like about a literary magazine is being able to read something and feel like ‘Huh, I would never pick that up on my own,’ and turn the page and read something and feel like ‘Oh, this was written for me.’ ” One goal of the editorial board is to receive more submissions from New Mexico. Although the review is produced and published here, local offerings have been few in comparison to the total. Perhaps some interaction with Issue 24 will inspire a new crop of potential word nerds to send their work. Submission forms and instructions are available here.
Current and back issues of the Blue Mesa Review are available through the UNM Press at unmpress.com.