Before the UCEP program led me to do co-op at The New Quarterly (TNQ), I had a very vague and largely inaccurate notion of what literary magazines were. Online forums, newspapers and writing contests were the three publishing platforms that came to mind—I wasn’t aware whether other platforms existed. A week or two into the co-op placement, the reality of literary magazines clicked for me. I went home and told my mom that there were actually magazines out there that accepted submissions of and published literature. For me, it was a great discovery, but my mom just looked at me like I had grown two thick heads. For her, it was common knowledge.
Doing co-op at TNQ was, in many other ways, an eye-opening experience. I was very grateful to be sharing the placement with Katherine, a fellow UCEP student, and thankful too that the team at the TNQ office was so open-minded and patient.
Over the course of a few months, there were many firsts: using social media, mailing, shredding, sending ‘nudge’ emails. Leading up to November, the main focus was the Wild Writers Literary Festival and sorting through applications for the youth bursary. Fortunately I can’t recite it off the top of my head now, but I distinctly remember at one point being very well versed in one of the applicant’s allergies (something about onions, leeks, garlic? In the column of dietary restrictions said applicant’s virtual shopping list of prohibited vegetables stuck out as one of the odder entries.)
What struck me about the writers and other guests who had dinner at the CiGi campus on the eve of the festival was that they appeared all very ordinary, very human, like any other person you’d pass in the street. Just seeing them at the dinner, in conversation, brought the whole business of writing and publishing down to earth for me. I think I sometimes tend to glorify writers, and many of them absolutely deserve to be praised and glorified, but my mindset also made writing somewhat mystical and unattainable; surreal. So seeing the writers at CiGi, along with reading their work as part of digitizing the newest issue during co-op hours, has generally helped me to realize that writing is concrete, and that it’s essence is work.
“I always get the feeling that it’s important to work in coexistence with everything that’s touched down in the office…”
In the process of sifting through old submissions, I got a taste of how the editors decide to reject or publish a piece. It really goes to show the time and effort that people in various roles contribute to each issue, often behind the scenes. While we had a good laugh over some of the contradictions of multiple editors’ remarks, there were very encouraging reactions, too, and there were definitely pieces of work that awed me. I love how some writers can tell their stories in a way that’s both literary and colloquial.
The atmosphere of the office will likely stay with me for a long time—even though it’s quiet, there’s always a sense of momentum, which becomes slightly more stubborn when things are hectic (people aren’t replying to nudge emails. Microsoft Word is being insufferable. There are a gazillion questions to answer in an application for a grant. The numbers won’t balance. And is that a dog or a pig on the cover of an archived issue?) Sometimes having a mess of file folders splayed across the table creates an illusion of productivity, which has made us more efficient, but there is still a struggle with space. Nonetheless, I always get the feeling that it’s important to work in coexistence with everything that’s touched down in the office—in spite of the clutter, nothing feels disorganized. I guess it’s something unique to TNQ.
Katherine and I are the latest generation of UCEP students to spend a term at TNQ. Thanks to the wonderful team at The New Quarterly’s office, we’ve been able to read many evocative and honest pieces of writing and even dig into the magazine’s archives. It was cool to see how the publication evolved over the years to become what it is today. I really hope any future UCEP students would be able to pick up where we left off with the archives, to be involved in the Wild Writers Literary Festival, and simply to come in contact with more of the world through what’s published by TNQ. Personally, a reference to Flannery O’Connor on the cover of 137 spurred me to explore her work, which I ended up really enjoying for its gothic quirkiness—I guess this is just a small example of The New Quarterly’s potential to point people in new, unexpected directions.