Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The New Shenandoah: A Great Transition Online

I was a little alarmed when I found out that one of my favorite literary journals, Shenandoah, was moving to an online format, but the debut issue—fully up and running as of September 1—shows me to be a silly worrywart.

It’s a beautiful site, easy to navigate, with thoughtful extras, like a “Poem of the Week” e.e.cummings, “poem”) and a classic piece from Shenandoah’s storied history ( Richard Wilbur’s “Poetry and Happiness”).

Alyson Hagy’s short-short “Self Portrait as a Trailer Full of Mules” immediately made me want to read out loud in exactly the way Whitman immediately makes me want to read out loud.  Denise Duhamel’s poem “Lower East Side Boyfriend” turned me instantly nostalgic for that gritty, eighties, New York scene (even though I never lived in it!).  And I must give a shout-out to Converse graduate Philip Belcher, for his thoughtful review of Every Riven Thing by Christian Wiman.

I was also interested in the interview with short story writer/novelist Rebecca Makkai (though I might have suggested moving to the end the opening questions about her past life as a Washington & Lee student, including her time spent working as a student assistant at Shenandoah, as I almost stopped reading, wanting instead her thoughts on writing and her work).  My patience was rewarded:

“My strongest advice for young fiction writers is to remember that above all, you’re telling a story. When you first start out, you can get so caught up in wanting to sound like a writer, and wanting to describe things beautifully, that you can forget no one is even going to listen to what you have to say unless you have a fascinating story to tell. Everything else – the schedule, the revisions, whatever rain dance you have to do before you sit down in your chair – is so individualized to the writer; but the story-telling part is essential and universal. And, weirdly, so easily neglected.”


“…there’s no race to be the youngest published writer out there, and I’ve seen a lot of writers try to skip over some crucial rites of passage because they’re so anxious to make a name for themselves. They usually end up disheartened and stuck. For most writers (but of course not all), it’s essential to master the short story before moving on to the novel, just as filmmakers will start with shorts. This isn’t because of anything intrinsic to the story form, but rather because completing many short pieces gives you the opportunity to stand back and look at the entirety of a finished work – one you didn’t spend years of your life on – and assess it as a whole. You can play with structure, rewrite the entire thing, or just chuck it, and that’s a lot harder to do with a novel.”

I’ve just grabbed for the quick glittery parts here in this post, and there’s so much more to this excellent journal.  You can (and most definitely should!) find Shenandoah at


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.