Org of the Week: Student journal offers creative outlet

The Vassar Student Review (VSR) has long stood at the center of the College’s renowned literary community, a testament to the Vassar student body’s creative pastimes and the willingness of students to contribute to its rich literary tradition. Whether in prose or in verse, all students—and their pens—are welcome.

VSR publishes its magazine biannually, both in print and online, showcasing literary and artistic works by Vassar students. The magazine covers a wide range of artist media and serves the diverse interests of Vassar students. Creative writers, poets, photographers, painters and sculptors all are welcome to present their original works. The organization meets every Wednesday evening, usually in one of the Main parlors, to discuss the pieces that are submitted in the given week.

Managing Editor Tatum Phillips ’20 elaborated on what these meetings typically look like. “We take the time to go through each piece of work thoroughly, voicing our reactions, likes/dislikes, general thoughts on the work before deciding whether we think it should be accepted into the [R]eview,” Phillips explained. “Something I love about VSR is that you don’t have to be an expert on writing or art to join. Anyone who is interested in peer-review is welcomed and appreciated.”

Phillips also acknowledged the importance of VSR in ways of fostering conversation, saying, “The idea of peer-review interests me because I love to see how people in my generation think. I may love a poem about the Fall and the passing of time but the person next to me may find it clichéd and uninspired. As a group we all offer different perspectives on the work and are not afraid to hold back our opinions. When critiquing a piece of work in meetings it’s not about judging the author’s work based on subject matter or how well they write but rather if we can relate to their work, if it stands out or is unique in any way. Also, we consider its value to the magazine as a whole and how it will fit with the other submitted work.”

Copy editor Victorien Jakobsen ’19 discussed in an emailed statement the unique opportunities that VSR presents to writers and artists. “As someone who enjoys writing and making art, I know that submitting and sharing work can be stressful and nerve-wracking, but being able to see it in print is extremely gratifying. In attending the meetings and reviewing the work, I get to take part in that process and recognize the effort fellow students put in, which is very rewarding. I’m always proud of what they are able to create and I hope they’re proud, too.”

In addition to the publications, the Student Review regularly teams up with the Vassar Review, Vassar’s nationally distributed literary magazine, to host an annual competition in which two students who have submitted pieces win the opportunity to publish their writing.By including contributions from outside writers, this competition broadens the scope of the Vassar literary community. The competition culminates with a release party at the end of the school year when published writers are invited to a reading of their work. For the past two years, this has taken place around Sunset Lake, where everyone can gather under the trees and enjoy the scenery. As Jakobsen recalled, “It’s a beautiful and serene experience to sit in the spring weather and listen to poetry and prose while admiring the view.”

Members of the VSR’s executive board are often writers or artists themselves who contribute regularly to the magazine. Art Editor and co-winner of last year’s competition Sam Panken ’19 spoke of her involvement with VSR: “Having been an active participant and editor of a similar art and literary zine in high school, I immediately applied to be on exec as a Layout Editor my first semester … We submit our work to the VSR and go through the same anonymous peer-review process as any other candidate for publication. I feel lucky to submit my writing to a group of peers who share my intention to showcase student work in the Vassar community.”

Editor-in-Chief Jordann Schnarr ’18 explained in an emailed statement what she loves most about VSR: “I write poetry so I’m always looking for spaces that allow me to come together with other creative minds, receive feedback on my work, and offer the same for other writers [and] artists.

“Literary magazines are a great opportunity for that sort of collaboration,” Schnarr continued. “You end up with a lot of people with a passion for creative works—not necessarily for producing that work, but for experiencing and reviewing and ultimately showcasing it— getting together in a room and talking about art. It’s a very constructive environment.”

As the layout editor of VSR for the past two years, Schnarr has a lot of hands-on experience with its content. She shared, “You can’t put together a magazine without getting to know each piece intimately; you have to think so much about how to best showcase each one on the page and in the context of the whole magazine. By the time everything was put together I had a much better appreciation of the scope and depth of artistic talent we have at Vassar.”

One of the most unique aspects of VSR is its anonymous review process. The identity of an author is withheld when the journal reviewers share feedback and vote to decide whether the piece will be included. Students are also welcome to revise their work and submit again. In this way, VSR stresses the process of creation rather than the immediate result.

Jakobsen commented on the benefits of anonymity: “It encourages more people to submit their work, as they have the knowledge that reviewers will be unbiased. The fact that VSR is peer-reviewed further emphasizes how much the magazine centers on Vassar students. Everyone is invited to submit and also review the submissions of others if they so choose, which means that reviewers are fellow students and are not put on a pedestal.”

Panken attested to the VSR’s ability to promote literature and creation: “There’s something really special about being actively aware of the creative output of your immediate community and choosing to constructively contribute to the formation and presentation of that highly personal product. Each submission is approached with an inquisitive eye rather than a judgmental one–a philosophy that’s essential to a peer-review process, especially one that approaches creative work.”

Schnarr also noted the drawback of anonymity and ways to fix it: “I believe [it] makes the prospect of submitting a piece a lot less intimidating. Unfortunately this serves to distance the creators from the meetings where their work is reviewed. We’re working toward finding ways of providing more constructive feedback for the authors and artists while retaining anonymity for the selection process. Ideally this means that comments from the meeting will be made available to anyone who submits their piece, regardless of whether that piece is accepted.”

VSR encourages submissions of work in any creative form that can be feasibly printed. If you are interested, the Review encourages you to email vassarstudentreview[a]gmail.com.

Panken summarized VSR’s accessibility, stating, “[It] is a space for student work–as long it can be reproduced on a page, and it’s selected by our board for publication, we will do our best to make it happen.”

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