Features & Columns

SJSU's Literary Mosaic,
Reed Magazine, Celebrates Issue 69

Reed Magazine, the literary journal of San Jose State University,
will release its 69th annual issue next month at Books, Inc. in Mountain View.
GIVE AND TAKE: Sixty-nine years of Reed Magazine has given artists a voice and readers the gift of free expression. Photo by Gary Singh

Reed Magazine, the literary journal of San Jose State University, will release its 69th annual issue next month with a gala hoedown spectacular at Books, Inc. in Mountain View. However, that number of 69 is a bit misleading.

The journal can actually trace its bloodline all the way back to the school's very beginnings in 1867, when the first issue of the Acorn was published by English Department students of the California State Normal School, the institute that eventually became San Jose State University. As such, Reed is the oldest journal west of the Mississippi.

Professor Cathleen Miller teaches two semesters, fall and spring, in which students put the magazine together. They have to sift through hundreds of submissions, including poetry, fiction, artwork and whatever else gets included in the call for work. Roughly speaking, they choose the content during the fall semester and then once spring arrives, the students start organizing the magazine, including the design, layout, production, sales and marketing. It's a one-year amalgamation of learning that essentially baptizes the students by fire and shows them how complex magazine production can be.

'We receive, over the internet, submissions from all over the world,' Miller says. 'We have writers from South Africa, Afghanistan, Spain and France, and so on. In this last issue, we had a guy who published in The New Yorker, we've had people who published in Harper's, and many others.'

The new issue, #69, features winners of the John Steinbeck Award for Fiction, the Edwin Markham Prize for Poetry, the Gabriele Rico Challenge for Nonfiction and the Mary Blair Award for Art, but Miller says the team strives to brand Reed as a Bay Area publication with a California aesthetic. Even though submissions come in from everywhere, many of which are included, the priority is to feature a foundation of locally-sourced stories and/or profiles of local artists. For instance, the new issue will include profiles of legendary Chicano playwright Luis Valdez as well as David Perez, the former Santa Clara County Poet Laureate.

While the release party next month celebrates the current issue, a major milestone will erupt next year, as 2017 designates the 150th anniversary of the first issue in 1867. The Reed team is already planning larger-scale hoedown spectaculars, both in San Jose and at the 2017 Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference in Washington, D.C. Each event is going to be one hell of a party.

Since Reed features both established, active scribes as well as raw beginners, it's worth a shot to submit your material even if you're just starting out. You never know what might happen.

For example, in my case, it never occurred to me until recently that I might have Reed to thank for helping launch my own writing career. When I was finishing up grad school at SJSU, I held down a miserable tech support job in the university controller's office, a student assistant position for something like seven dollars an hour. It was uninspiring work: troubleshooting printers, domain name service problems and TCP/IP issues on Windows 95 machines in the university financial operations—accounts payable and receivable, payroll, purchasing, etc.—which were then located in the old Wahlquist Building. For an entire year, many mornings found me sitting there, on the clock, with nothing to do.

I began to write violent experimental fiction out of sheer boredom with my job. I harbored no expectations to ever write professionally, and I longed to leave San Jose forever, but I knew I had a way with words, so I completed a short story and submitted it to Reed, which they accepted for the spring 1998 issue. I remember festering in a lifelessly uniform cubicle, on the clock, doing nothing, when they sent me the acceptance email. I can't say for sure, but it may have been the first thing I ever published. Although I didn't know at the time, thanks to Reed, I entered a long tradition.

'We want people to really understand we have a literary scene that's beyond just San Francisco,' Miller says. 'There's a lot of roots here in the South Bay as well.'

For more info go to www.reedmag.org.