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Literary Journal Expands Collective Voice to Global Community

5/26/2016

Mount Saint Vincent’s quarterly literary journal expands far beyond the College’s Riverdale campus. With content from student contributors at colleges and universities around the globe—including Albania, Australia, Canada, and Ireland—The Underground garners worldly talent, featuring a wide array of fiction, poetry, prose, and photography.

“We’ve received many international submissions—almost as many as we get from New York,” says Kristen Macatangay ’17, the publication’s editor-in-chief who joined The Underground during her freshman year. “Some come from contacts of the last editor-in-chief—he initially connected with them and now they keep coming back. Other submissions are word of mouth, so maybe their friends saw the magazine. I make sure that everyone tries to spread the word to submit their work so that we have a collective voice.”

“There are no borders,” says Anthony Lee, Associate Professor of English and faculty advisor of the student-run publication. “You know some artist in Belgium and you ask and if they have something—if they have a short story, if they have a cover. Whatever it is, they send it to you. Then, you publish it and the magazine is beautiful. The product itself is just lovely and so professional. To be able to send that out there into the world is incredible.”

Each issue of The Underground begins with its staff members—made up of freshman through senior students, humanities and science majors alike—sifting through about 100 submissions. Members attend meetings, vote, and sometimes contribute their own work. “It’s something that they can’t turn off, they can’t turn away from,” Dr. Lee says. “Students have to be there, they have to be involved. It’s not just an interest—it’s a passion.”

As editor-in-chief, Ms. Macatangay has developed an editing system that allows staff to give equal opportunity to each submission, while also keeping the authors’ anonymity. Each member has a chance to read and rate the content, and when they meet, students discuss their ratings and decide what makes it into the publication.

“I think conversations can change one’s opinion about a certain piece,” Ms. Macatangay says. “We discuss what we think the piece is about and why it should be in the magazine. Maybe someone who gave it a low grade just didn’t understand it the way someone else would. That’s why it’s important to have a conversation about it.”

While no particular theme drives each issue of The Underground, editors consider how each piece fits within the overall publication. “We don’t want to lower the quality of what we’re working on with a piece that doesn’t fit,” says recent graduate Gabrielle Loccisano ’16, the publication’s former vice president. “We want to improve ourselves constantly, so we work to bring the best work in. It gets passionate at times. Sometimes it’s a tie and the executive board just has to decide amongst ourselves. But, if we still can’t decide, we go to Dr. Lee for advice. It’s great working with him because the magazine is so student-driven—we come up with how we want to do things.”

The publication’s review process mimics the many benefits provided by the Mount through its liberal arts education—including the exploration of life of the mind and the cultivation of intellectual virtues—immersing students in a distinctive element of higher education in and outside the classroom. Staff members gain valuable critical thinking skills that will serve them in whatever careers they choose. “They are voting for or against poetry, photographs, covers, and I think that probably stimulates some very deep-seated part of the brain with the kinds of questions and things that we talk about in class—in arts classes, in literature classes,” Dr. Lee says. “Students have to have those discussions in their meetings, which get filtered down, packaged, processed, and designed into this object of beauty.”

The Underground staff publishes a few hundred copies to send to contributors who will, in turn, promote the publication to their home colleges and universities across the country, as well as to artists and writers in the United States and abroad. The staff travels downtown, placing copies of the magazine at New York University, among other NYC locations. They also place copies strategically in coffeehouses in Westchester, where many students work. The staff even provides copies to the Mount’s Office of Admission, appealing to the literary inclinations of prospective high school students.

Working for The Underground has encouraged many Mount graduates to use the skills acquired while working on the literary journal: Christine Westphal ’12 writes a donor magazine for the Bronx Zoo and Ariel Pimentel ’13 attended a publishing program at Oxford Brookes University, receiving a job offer immediately after graduation at a British publishing house. Former editor Bo Fisher ’15 is currently studying English at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, where he has started an online literary magazine titled Uptown 1. This May, Mr. Fisher was awarded the Margaret Lamb/Writing to the Right Hand Margin Prize for his piece “Washing Jean Jackets in West Jeff,” at Fordham’s annual Creative Writing Awards. The story has also been featured in The Observer, the award-winning student newspaper of Fordham University.

“The thing I love about The Underground is how far it’s come since I was a freshman at Mount Saint Vincent,” says Mr. Fisher. “Every interview I’ve had since being editor-in-chief of The Underground, I have brought copies of issues. I did so when I interviewed at Fordham University Press, 826NYC, Gotham Writers Workshop, and The Center for Fiction—I was offered positions after each of those interviews. The Underground has been sort of a resume in itself, and I hope that anyone else who’s worked on the staff can do the same thing when they’re interviewing for similar work. They, too, can show proof of their capabilities in the physicality of such an absurdly beautiful product, whether they worked on the design, read submissions, or solicited writing.”

The Underground is much more than just a student literary magazine. It carries a strong sense of purpose and professional collaboration, offering members, readers, and contributors an outlet extending far beyond the Bronx—it has inspired and broadened its collective voice to a global community. As Dr. Lee says: “The magazine is magnetic.”