VIU students in the creative writing program will launch the 23rd annual issue of Portal on April 10.
Portal is an art and literary anthology produced, curated, and distributed by students in VIU’s creative writing 430/431 class under the guidance of professor Joy Gugeler.
According to one of Portal’s non-fiction editors and author Drew McLachlan, the magazine showcases and celebrates the local talent from the fine arts and creative writing programs. Funded by donations, fundraising activities, local advertising, and sales, the publication features exclusively student works which range from fiction and non-fiction to poetry, photography, and art.
“It showcases the varying perspectives and experiences of our community at VIU and the Island in general,” art director Kim Kemmer says. “It is ‘of ourselves and of our origins’—stories about back home in Montreal or Slovakia, or being reborn in the ocean.”
McLachlan says the Portal class gives the students a unique hands-on preparation for various jobs in the publishing industry.
“As people who are looking to get into this profession and don’t have many opportunities because we are students, this magazine is literally a portal to experience in the publishing world,” he says.
“It’s not as much pressure because you’re not making money and looking for promotions,” non-fiction and copy editor Molly Barrieau says. “You’re just trying out the world you’re given to see if that’s where you fit. It helps people gain confidence and know they can get their stuff published. It doesn’t have to be serious writing or dark pieces. It can be funny, or a parody.”
McLachlan believes inclusion of humour livens up the variety of styles featured in the magazine.
“There are so many unique styles and settings of content,” he says. “There is a piece about a former Soviet Republic, one from the Philippines, there is funny stuff, emotional works, a little bit of everything.”
Philip Gordon, a second year creative writing student, is one of the authors featured in this issue. One of two published non-fiction pieces, “How to Write a Poem for a Girl You Like,” is a satirical instruction Gordon jokingly dedicates to “some poor romantic schlub who’s never written a poem in his life, but thinks doing so might finally convince the girl a thousand miles out of his league to go see Anchorman 2 with him.” Gordon praises standard of quality of content, production and graphic design, but says future crews in Portal might reconsider the “heavy editing” acceptance practice where submitted works are accepted with substantial edits by peers, which he finds “frustrating.” He however appreciates the overall improvement and growth of the magazine he’s been watching over years.
“The fact that the whole thing is shouldered on the enthusiasm and talent of the student body is also incredibly inspiring; it makes me feel like I’m in good company,” he says.
Kemmer suggests that Portal have open submissions in the future and open itself to the authors from the Island, as well as VIU students. She thinks dedicating a portion of the magazine to open submission would help Portal approach a larger audience across the Island and gain notoriety.
“The core readers of literary magazines are people who want to be published,” she says. “One of our problems is that we don’t know who our readers are aside our parents who we’re giving these magazines to, and people who have been published from VIU.”
Despite her confidence in the high quality of student submissions, Kemmer says the magazine could benefit from a better variety of works and even generate revenue from submission fees while providing an outlet for a wider community of writers and artists.
“If you’re writer on Vancouver Island and don’t go to university, where can you get published? You have to send your work to Vancouver,” Molly Barrieau, one of Portal’s non-fiction editors says. “Wouldn’t you rather be published in a local magazine?”
McLachlan, on the other hand, likes the idea of Portal being a completely student-made publication.
“For me, part of Portal’s value is that it gives VIU students a chance to be published, and helps validate our program,” he says. “Opening our submissions would give us more high-quality work, but it would also mean less space for the high-quality work we have here on campus.”
McLachlan adds that open submissions would increase the amount of work the Portal crew already has to deal with.
“We read all of the submissions over Christmas break, and if we opened submissions they would be tenfold and we wouldn’t have time for anything else,” he says.
“I don’t suggest taking a full course load when you’re working on Portal,” Kemmer comments on the workload of the class. “It’s not just a 3-hour-a-week class. Portal has the potential to consume you.”
The jobs and roles in the production of the magazine are assigned at the beginning of the course. Students pick from a list of positions according to their individual skills and experience. Some students can hold up to three different roles, and everyone actively participates in fundraising events such as bachelor auction or bake sales throughout the year.
The production budget is roughly $10K per issue with the printing cost portending $7K. Kemmer says there will be about 475 copies this year. All the sales from the current issue go to the production and printing of the next one.
The launch will feature live music, guest speakers, and readings from Portal contributors. The official launch will take place on April 10, at 7pm at 106 Wall St at Nanaimo Curling Club.