Features & Columns

SJSU Literary Pub Reed Magazine Celebrates 150th Anniversary

San Jose State University's literary journal celebrated its
150th anniversary with a poignant gala
Reed Magazine staff had a ball at the 150th anniversary party. Photo by Sherri Harvey

Surrounded by multiple dimensions of campus history, San Jose State University's literary journal, these days known as Reed, celebrated its 150th anniversary with a poignant gala last Friday. A low-key reception in the Bell Rose Garden preceded readings and speeches in Morris Dailey Auditorium, followed by a champagne finale, also in the rose garden.

Most likely the West Coast's oldest continuing literary publication, Reed threw the party to announce its current issue, a mammoth piece of work stuffed and overflowing with fiction, poetry, profiles, interviews and artwork. At 330 pages, the issue is Reed's largest ever, exactly 130 pages longer than any issue in the journal's extensive history.

Now, I must make a full, or perhaps empty, disclosure here. A nonfiction piece of mine, a 2,000-word historical profile of the painter ADM Cooper, appears in this year's issue, so I would never attempt to report on the event with any degree of objectivity. Besides, only a boring, pedestrian, emotionless writer would try to remove himself from such a story. You don't want this column to be a snore fest, do you? Right. I didn't think so.

That said, the history behind Reed is the history of SJSU itself, and it's been a long, strange trip to say the least. As everyone should already know, SJSU is the oldest public institution of higher learning in California, beginning in 1857 as Minns' Evening Normal School. Reed first emerged in 1867 as The Acorn, a handwritten publication by female students when the institution was called California State Normal School. After a few more iterations, the school became San Jose State College in 1935 and then eventually the university in 1974. The Acorn became The Normal School Index in 1895, then The Normal Pennant in 1898, The Quill in 1920, El Portal in 1932 and then finally The Reed in 1948, later shortening itself to just Reed.

The rose garden setting for the party was just about perfect, situated directly across from Morris Dailey Auditorium and right next to the Tower Bell, a 3,000-pound clanger originally cast in 1881 to commemorate the debut of the California State Normal School. Coltrane tunes emanated from the system and the drinks flowed. Many who worked on the current issue of the magazine, as well as former staff, showed up to join the celebration, pound drinks and line up for food. Current and former faculty, students, benefactors and others on the periphery of the local literary scene also attended. With multiple aspects of campus history surrounding the reception, attendees could view the Tower Bell, the statue of Tommie Smith and John Carlos commemorating their bold civil rights stand at the 1968 Olympics and the historic Tower Hall complex. Morris Dailey himself was president of the campus from 1900-1918, and I think his spirit was present. Everything unfolded with soft jazz in the background and a tranquil breeze blanketing the whole affair. One person even likened the scene to The Great Gatsby. I would not have gone that far, but if Coltrane can backdrop Gatsby, I'll take it.

All of which motivated several people—students, faculty and locals—to declare out loud how much finer this setting was than the original plan to stage the event in the City Hall Rotunda, which would have been a disaster. The rotunda is a truly wasteful place to organize an event. The acoustics are horrible. Anyone at the microphone sounds like he or she is talking inside an airplane hangar. The dorky swath of paperwork, permits and bureaucracy one is forced to navigate just to use the space is not even remotely worth it. The rose garden and Morris Dailey made much more sense. Setting means everything. And with 150 years of campus history driving the experience, Gatsby or not, the stage was set for the reading, which then commenced inside Morris Dailey Auditorium.

Professor Cathleen Miller, whose classes assembled the magazine, emceed the evening, along with Santa Clara County Poet Laureate Arlene Biala. SJSU President Mary Papazian, an English Lit Ph.D. herself, spoke to the value of an arts and humanities education, even for the valley-bound engineers that normally get all the attention around campus. All in all, the evening was a smashing success. I didn't have to drink a bottle of champagne to act like F. Scott Fitzgerald. Hail Spartans, hail!