In 1980 the campus literary magazine called the Null Set Review and staffed by, among others, Jonathan Franzen, voted to change its name to Small Craft Warnings, after a Tennessee Williams play. Small Craft is now the campus’s oldest literary magazine, with a rich history of editors and contributors who have gone on to prolific careers in literature and the arts. But though its status as the primary print literary publication on campus has remained largely unaltered, in recent years, the magazine has struggled with a stagnant design and a diminishing campus presence. “It kind of fell into disrepair in the last 10 years,” explains editor Trip Lenahan ’15. This year, looking to reverse this trend, the magazine is ready for an update.
In an effort to revitalize the publication—to make it “more professional and competitive” according to editor Danielle Charette ’14—members of the magazine’s editorial board have spent the semester implementing several major changes. The overhaul has been spearheaded in large part by Lenahan. “I was really bored over the summer,” he explains. “Small Craft just needed some new life, some spirit, some energy. I feel like Swarthmore deserves to have a really cool literary magazine.”
Changes have ranged from the relatively small to several major shifts in direction. Under the former type, the magazine is dropping the “Warning” from its name; it will now be called simply Small Craft. And to encourage content diversity, the board is now limiting each individual author to one published piece, whereas previously the limit was three.
Some of the most significant changes, however, involve new roles for and contributions by alumni and faculty members. In the past, content and design has been entirely student generated, and, generally, the magazine has been composed purely of student creative writing and art (although this semester the magazine will not contain any student artwork or photography, the board hopes to reintroduce visual art in later issues).
Now, however, the magazine is looking to integrate contributions from the larger college community, including students, staff and alums. While planning for this semester’s revamped issue, the board reached out to Linda Huang ’08 and Andrew LeClair ’08, both graphic designers currently based in New York. Huang, who is a recent graduate of the Parsons School of Design and currently works as a designer at Alfred A. Knopf, and LeClair, who recently graduated with an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, have been responsible for the vast majority of design changes in the upcoming issue.
Other alums and staff also provided diverse content, including Adam Dalva ’08, an MFA candidate at NYU, and Professor of English Literature Nathalie Anderson, who contributed a poem. In addition, the foreword for the upcoming issue was written by Adam Haslett ’92, whose debut book of short stories entitled “You Are Not a Stranger Here” was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Haslett was himself an editor of Small Craft Warnings in 1991; his piece recounts the experience of anonymously submitting to the magazine and then trashing his own piece during a board meeting.
Huang and LeClair are also in the process of designing a new website, which the editors hope will include a full archive of past magazine pieces. The website launch will feature two poems from the first issue of Small Craft. The author of one is currently a librarian in Houston, while the other is professor at Grinnell; the archive feature will actively aim to keep up and engage with former contributors, meshing well with the magazine’s efforts to enhance its role in the broader campus community.
Overall, according to Lenahan, the response of alumni to requests for contributions has been overwhelmingly positive. “Every alum that I emailed responded, including Michael Dukakis,” Lenahan explained. “I was like, ‘Hey, would you be willing to provide an intro,’ and he wrote back saying ‘Yeah, just follow up.’ But I didn’t, because we got Adam Haslett.” All alumni and faculty involved in the making of the upcoming issue volunteered their time to the project.<
In another more practically-minded change, the board decided to change the magazine’s printer; whereas previous issues have been published at Sir Speedy, a large printing franchise, this semester’s issue will be printed at Linco, a small independent press in New York. According to Lenahan, the money saved from this switch means that they will likely be able to print around 500 copies this semester, up from 250 in recent years. While 250 will continue to be distributed around campus, the extra 250 copies will likely be kept available for alumni and other members of the broader campus community to order.
Some things, of course, remain unchanged. The editorial board—this semester composed of Lenahan, Charette, Ben Ellentuck ’14, Sam Zhang ’13, and Henrietta Hakes ’13 and slightly smaller than in recent semesters—reviews all submissions anonymously. This semester’s issue, though still unfinished, will likely fall in a normal range, 50-100 pages. The board hopes to host a launch party in January, featuring various speakers and readings. Longer term aims center around the hope that a fresh, new design and stronger alumni and staff involvement will push the magazine more prominently into campus and community awareness, and into a position of new relevance. Or, as Lenahan puts it, in more down-to-earth terms, “when the magazine is released in January, we hope that more people will contribute and just know what Small Craft is.”