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Shenandoah Turns 60 and Turns a Corner

This spring, Shenandoah: The Washington and Lee University Review, celebrates one milestone and prepares for another. First comes the 60th anniversary issue of the journal, a tribute to writer Flannery O’Connor. And then comes a change, when Shenandoah shifts from print to Web.

For the anniversary, why focus on O’Connor? The author of short stories like “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and novels like Wise Blood hailed from Georgia, not Virginia. But she had a personal association with Shenandoah. Her story “A Stroke of Good Fortune” appeared in the Spring 1953 edition; the journal has reviewed her books; and this special issue will contain some of her correspondence with the editors.

In addition, O’Connor (1925-1964) is a vivid part of popular culture. She is the subject of not one but two recent biographies, one published last year and an authorized biography to come. And radio hosts Garrison Keillor (“Prairie Home Companion”) and Michael Feldman (“Whad’Ya Know?”) even mention O’Connor on their shows. As R.T. Smith, editor of Shenandoah since 1995, who has his own scholarly interest in the author, put it, “O’Connor turns out to be not just hidden off in a corner of the English department and high culture.”

All of this came together in what Smith called “a happy constellation” of timing and material. The 300-page issue (which is “pushing the limit of what our printer can bind”) is brimming with stories by Joyce Carol Oates, Fred Chappell and Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, and with poems by Charles Wright, Kallima Hamilton, Claudia Emerson, Dave Smith, Betty Adcock and Rodney Jones. It will have an excerpt from the upcoming authorized biography, by William Sessions, a former English professor at Georgia State University and an O’Connor friend. Robert McDonald, professor of English at W&L’s neighbor, the Virginia Military Institute, contributes photographs of O’Connor’s farm, Andalusia. Some of the material is about O’Connor; the rest, said Smith, is “in conversation with deep Southern culture and misbehavior”-not unlike the work of O’Connor herself.

A W&L connection comes in the person of the Rev. James MacLeod, of Augusta, Ga., who has contributed material from the book he is writing about his friendship with O’Connor. This work from the member of W&L’s Class of 1959 will be divided among this issue, the fall 2010 issue, and the journal’s Web site.

The special issue will be published in May, and the journal will host a celebration of O’Connor when Washington and Lee’s undergraduate classes resume in the fall. The speaker will be Sarah Gordon, one of the premier scholars of O’Connor and a founder of the Flannery O’Connor Review.

Shenandoah will publish in its usual format in fall 2010. In spring 2011, there will be a limited-edition anthology of poems published in Shenandoah over the last 15 years. And then will come the biggest change of all. “For the foreseeable future,” said Smith, “that will be the last print issue of Shenandoah.”

Starting with the fall 2011 issue, it will be entirely online. A paid subscription will be a thing of the past. “It is perhaps inevitable when we look at what has happened to other literary journals,” said Smith. “Literary magazines per se are going to have to change their way of conceiving themselves and of reaching their audiences. And this is all tied up in the deep inquiry going on in our culture about the future of print. There is time to make that transition and be an innovator.”

The way the journal involves students in its work will be innovative as well. “The interns will not just observe and theorize about the actual editorial decisions, from design to contents to policies,” said Smith, “but they will also participate in the decisions, plus do things like screening submissions and blogging.”

Through such graduate-student-like work, the W&L undergrads will gain valuable experience, and Smith thinks readers will gain through “lively interactivity on the blog.” There will be more interns, and work-study students will continue their usual tasks. As a result, he said, “the magazine will become a laboratory where students get practical experience and contribute to the online conversation concerning the nature and future of American literature.”

Other facets of this ongoing Web conversation will be such features as songs, artwork and photography, as well as videos of poets reading their verse and authors discussing their stories.

For the reader, Smith said, an online journal “also leads to more accessibility and an increased audience.” If a reader feels an immediate yen to read a literary magazine like Shenandoah, it’s just a click away.

Smith wants long-time readers of Shenandoah to know that “the veteran authors are coming with us, and this medium will allow us greater access to discover the new authors.” Shenandoah will continue to offer honoraria to its contributors and to bestow most of its current awards, including the Graybeal-Gowen prize for Virginia poets.

“We will bring all of the very best features of a physical magazine except three-dimensionality,” said Smith. “We believe that we’re going to be gaining in terms of interactivity, accessibility, audio, the kinds of things that have made the whole concept of the Internet interesting to start with.”