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Shenandoah Goes Online with 61st Volume

On Sept. 1, the Fall 2011 issue of Shenandoah: The Washington and Lee University Review hits the newsstand — the virtual newsstand, that is. The 61-year-old literary journal is now entirely online and free. While its physical form is different, its spirit is the same.

“Different can be just as good,” said R.T. Smith, Shenandoah editor since 1995. “The online format amplifies the aesthetic experience rather than diminishes it.”

Founded in 1950 by a group of Washington and Lee professors and students, Shenandoah has won wide acclaim over the years. Its contents are often reprinted in such anthologies as Best American Short Stories, Best American Poems, Best American Essays, New Stories from the South and The Pushcart Prize. Recent issues have featured poems by Pulitzer winners Natasha Trethewey, Claudia Emerson and Ted Kooser, as well as fiction by James Lee Burke, George Singleton, Alyson Hagy, Chris Offutt, Bret Anthony Johnston and Pam Durban. The change to the online format has been in the works since March 2010.

Readers will still find a thoughtfully edited blend of poetry, essays, short stories, artwork and book reviews. They will also discover the new “Snopes Blog” (named after William Faulkner’s literary clan), a poem of the week, a monthly feature, a gallery with musings about that issue’s artwork, and a reprint of a gem from a previous issue.

“Reading online seems to me especially appealing for poetry and short-short stories,” said Smith, himself a writer of poems, stories and novels. “For some of the poems, we have audio. That’s a real boon.”

Smith hopes that readers will conduct an online conversation with the journal. He’s pleased that at least one conversation is already underway, thanks to an e-mail from journalist Christopher Dickey, son of the late writer James Dickey, who was a contributing editor to Shenandoah. This first online issue reprints James Dickey’s poem “Deer Among Cattle” from a previous edition.

In another strand of continuity, Shenandoah will still rely on the work of student interns from Washington and Lee, plus an occasional visitor from nearby institutions like Hollins University and Mary Baldwin College. Their number has increased from an average of one or two per term to 10 interns this fall. They will work on the website and the blog, review submissions, proofread and copyedit, conduct interviews and do a lot of writing. In the course of their internships, Smith said, they’ll also be learning about the wider literary world.

“It’s important the students understand that the whole history of Shenandoah reverberates through everything we do,” he said. “We have a responsibility that we wouldn’t have if we were starting something from scratch.”

In this issue, for example, Tracy Richardson, an English major who graduated from W&L this past May, interviews her fellow alumna Rebecca Makkai, of the Class of 1999. Makkai’s novel The Borrowers came out from Viking this summer to strong reviews and wide publicity. Like Richardson, Makkai interned at Shenandoah while she was a student, an experience she calls “literary heaven.”

The students will also be researching the history of Shenandoah’s new headquarters. Formerly in the Mattingly House (itself once the Sigma Chi fraternity house), the journal now resides downtown in Courthouse Square, in one of the 19th-century offices of Lawyers’ Row. From his desk, Smith has a direct line of sight across Washington Street to the Stonewall Jackson House. “The physical move to such fine quarters seems to me an apt metaphor for the move to the web,” he said.

Smith has spent the past six months assembling the current issue, and he’s got nearly all of the next one on deck. He also judged Shenandoah’s short-short story contest, studied other online literary journals, perused potential artwork, and attended the Oxford (Miss.) Conference for the Book, where he participated in a session that pondered the future of print and online literature.

“I do want to keep reminding people that this is not a new thing, but a new turn to a very old thing, and that we have a lot of leverage behind what we do and say,” said Smith. “The web is the spear point headed into the future. This incarnation of Shenandoah is a well-thrown spear.”

Read the Fall 2011 issue at shenandoahliterary.org/