Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 8, 2021

Recognizing the value of literary journals

By ALIZA LI | February 20, 2021

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Li enjoys submitting to and reading pieces from literary journals.

The first literary journal I ever submitted to was a student-run magazine called Aerie International, based in a high school in Missoula. Perusing through lists of student writing competitions and publications, I picked out Aerie because they published in print, and I was infatuated with the idea of seeing my work in physical form. I diligently wrote and submitted a short story about a young girl navigating the cultural conflict between her heritage and the world around her. To my shock and elation, the work was accepted for publication.

Admittedly, much of my motivation in high school was college-oriented (I’m sure many Hopkins students can relate), so literary journals began only as vehicles for me to build my resume. However, as time progressed and I began to learn more about these magazines and their significance to the writing world, I found myself more and more drawn to them. 

It was not because I believed they could benefit me in some way but because I felt inspired and moved by the works within them. Diving into a realm of beautifully written short stories, poems and essays, I fell in love with short-form literature and the way a publication could introduce me to so many talented writers whom I’d never even heard of before.

Frankly, before I read through the works filling each issue of literary magazines like The Adroit Journal or the Bennington Review, I was unaware of how different writing could be from what I found in novels, how creative and abstract and imaginative a story or poem could be crafted and how much of an art form writing is.

It was a simultaneously humbling and exciting experience. On one hand, I felt daunted and afraid of how my own work stood up to these amazing and subversive pieces. On the other hand, I read each piece with vigor and found myself inspired in my own writing.

Before long, I was forming a list of some of my favorite publications and dreaming up a future in which my work could sit within each one. Some of the journals on this list include:

  • Aerie International, student-run and based at Big Sky High School in Missoula
  • Bennington Review, based at Bennington College
  • Eunoia Review, based in Singapore
  • Sienna Solstice, founded and run by students
  • The Adroit Journal, founded by a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to publishing work from many renowned creatives, this magazine also hosts mentorship programs, competitions and fellowships for students.
  • The Penn Review, based at the University of Pennsylvania
  • TriQuarterly, based at Northwestern University

Reading the many works housed in these journals inspires me to write my own, to create stories that others can find just as enchanting as I find these. Much of my enjoyment of literary magazines comes from their ability to unite so many different writers in a single anthology, showcasing the talent of not only the contributors but the magazine editors as well.

Many magazines these days are being founded and run by high school and undergrad students. Journals such as Sienna Solstice, The Aurora Review, Wintermute Lit, The Incandescent Review, and EX/POST are all recent student-founded publications. The creative teams behind these magazines are creating and organizing professional-level products despite their young age and relative lack of experience in the publishing world. 

Many of these publications go beyond the written word form, combining art, music and design to turn their magazines into real works of art. All of this serves to prove that literary magazines can offer an accessibility to publication that traditional book publishing can’t. Literary magazine contributors and editors alike can find success and engagement in their work without the investment required to publish and market a novel.

For me, literary magazines have allowed me to see my work published and printed in a physical book, something that fills me with immense pride and satisfaction and has helped me cement my identity as a writer. After Aerie International, I have submitted work to many more publications, and despite frequent rejections, I have also been able to find success, getting to see my stories published in Canvas Teen Literary Journal (which has since closed unfortunately) and Wintermute Lit.

Every time I get an email back with the congratulatory news of an acceptance, I feel the same sense of excitement and pride. Above all else, I feel a hunger to write even more, submit even more and read even more of these works.

Aliza Li is a freshman from Houston, Texas studying Writing Seminars and Cognitive Science. Her column is an homage to all of the passions and obsessions that contribute to the person she is today.

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