Editor’s Note: We asked one of our sumer 2011 interns, Jacob Lancaster, to share his perspective on working in the Iowa Review office—and got more than we bargained for.
In an honest confession of my naïveté, I thought literary journals were Beethoven and dry toast. Straight tea parties. I imagined some quill pen society of white guys or poorly lit rooms with people in Kerouac costumes, with those pensive, deep-stare poet faces, each sipping Earl Grey, each with their own spiraling gyres.
However, the Review’s office is devoid of Victorian furniture and ashtrays and wine decanters, and it’s actually quite tiny. Not in the Smart Car, I’m-accepting-this-little-thing-to-better-the-earth tiny, but more like How-do-you-seriously-fit-twenty-four-readers-in-here-at-one-time? tiny.
And the people who fill the office are quite non-canon themselves. Managing Editor Lynne Nugent once told me that she tried Twitter but didn’t really get it. “The only person I followed was, um, Snookie,” she said, “and all she did was tweet things like 'Im rly luvin my Vitamin Water XXX today!!!'—so I stopped.” And Lynne was also one to drop editorial questions like, “This story has a character say, ‘can I have some more pot?’—but…that’s not how to ask someone for more pot.”
And after many conversations with Jenna (Asst. Managing Editor) about Roman ideology and Iowa City cocaine fronts, I found out that she opted out of her PhD program to do an MFA and open a pick-your-own blueberry farm with her husband. “In grad school they expect you to write these long essays from theoretical perspectives, but really, it’s all subjective. So what do you do? Get your doctorate, get tenure, and eventually become part of the group telling PhD students to suppress their true opinions. It’s all B.S.”
However, as Lynne and Jenna could tell you, I was most caught up this summer in the mystery that is Editor Russell Scott Valentino. I only saw him in person twice, and the only news I heard of him was that he was going to spend a length of time in Siberia this upcoming fall, and that he would soon be heading to southern Italy during the summer to teach a class where I imagined him in linen suits sending e-mails from a sunset beach approving the banal work that I was doing.
And after all the volumes of TIR I read and put into the database, after all the poems and essays I read and wanted to rip out, staple, and keep for myself; after all the jokes in the office and afternoons not getting any copyediting done while laughing at the antics of Lynne’s baby (sorry, Russell), I realized the root of my naïveté was that The Iowa Review is like all great things: generally unpopular. But I believe that’s a good thing. And it is a good thing because it’s why I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell won’t be replacing Slaughterhouse-Five, why Lil Wayne won’t be replacing 2Pac, why pudgy babies aren’t the mascots of more offices, why there are fewer blueberry farmers than PhD students, and why Siberia is undervisited. The select few know what’s quality and what's “all B.S.”
Jacob Lancaster is currently studying in the undergraduate creative writing track at The University of Iowa, tending bar in Iowa City, and never sleeping. Jacob is from the small town of Sycamore, Illinois, runs a music blog at no-crap-music.blogspot.com, and enjoyed writing this blurb about himself in the third person.