Meet the Board: Q&A with George Clack

George Clack joined the Little Patuxent Review’s board last summer and has taken on the role of social media coordinator. In recent years he’s been teaching literature and film in the continuing education programs at Howard Community College and Johns Hopkins University. Previously, he worked as a magazine editor with the National Endowment for the Arts, then the U.S. Information Agency, finally morphing into a digital editor, publisher, and content provider with the U.S. State Department. For three years he blogged on books and writing at 317am. In the Q&A that follows, he answers questions about LPR, why he loves the journal, and why he devotes so much time to it.

Q: What brought you to the Little Patuxent Review?

The magazine’s publisher emeritus and presiding spirit, Mike Clark, and the publisher, Desiree Magney, recruited me. It was a little like what I imagine being recruited by the CIA or MI6 might be. Through word of mouth, they’d apparently determined I was the right sort, and so then I had to decide whether I was willing to carve some time out of my busy life to do real work for the LPR. I thought hard about this: you could say I’m hooked on great writing or that I believe that literature is a force for good in the world. Either way, I know from my own experience that what writers want above all is to have readers. The mission of the LPR for me is to connect writers—particularly writers just starting out—with readers. So in a sense I joined the LPR this year for the same reason I joined IndivisibleHoCoMD, the local Trump resistance movement: to put my beliefs into action. Mike Clark likes to say working on the LPR is a labor of love for everybody involved. I’d agree.

Q: What are your thoughts on the most recent LPR issue? Any favorite pieces?

Over the years I’d read various issues of LPR, but I’d never attended a launch reading. I have pretty high standards—right now I’m teaching a course in fiction, analyzing stories from the Best American Short Stories 2017 anthology. My daily fare is what has risen to the top in the literary magazine world. I have to say this latest LPR issue was a revelation to me. I like to savor the issue at the rate of a couple of items per night so I’m still working my way through the print version, but I was blown away by all the youthful talent on display at the reading.

Just to cite a few examples: Hannah Bonner’s essay, “Fixed in a Moment of Fierce Attention: 13 Ways of Looking at Claire Underwood,” takes the classic personal essay to places I’d never imagined. There’s Jessica Van Devanter’s “Bolo Tie,” a short story in which the author makes much of what can happen when a girl inherits her grandfather’s bolo tie. And I won’t forget the Black Ladies Brunch Collective—five women poets who performed poems that transported me into a world I’m not used to seeing and from a point of view far from my own. T.C. Boyle once wrote that “surprise is what the best fiction offers,” and that’s exactly what this issue delivers (issue available for purchase at this link).

My understanding is the editors received 933 submissions for this issue, the most ever, so I was curious to see whether the intuitive thought—more competition equals higher quality—was true. It’s a small sample here, but yes, for sure, I’d say.

Q: I’m fairly new to LPR, personally. What sets LPR apart?

I’m still trying to figure this out. We had a board/staff day-long retreat in December in which we discussed such topics as whether we’re a regional or national magazine and whether we’re shooting more for emerging or established writers as contributors. The board and editors came to no conclusion on these issues. You could say we agreed to disagree. I pushed for the regional and emerging writer labels for the LPR brand. The launch reading fulfilled my hopes for the emerging part of the equation. And while most of the readers were from the Maryland/D.C. area, a few had travelled across the country. Hannah Bonner and Jessica Van Devanter, for instance, had come from Iowa and California. So I’m rethinking that regional business.

There’s an obvious prestige hierarchy among the hundreds of literary magazines in America. I’d like to see the LPR grow its audience of writers and readers and move up into the Top 20 rankings put out by the blogger John Fox of the top literary journals.

That’s pretty ambitious. We have a ways to go, but I have considerable confidence in our editor, Steven Leyva, and his editorial staff, the folks who do the time-consuming work of reading all those manuscripts and making the selections on what goes into the magazine.

And I will just note that we’re already accepting submissions for our Summer 2018 issue. The submission deadline is March 1, and more information is available at this link. The issue is unthemed, but we particularly encourage nonfiction writers to submit.

Q: What are you working on now?

The question implies that I have some creative writing project of my own going on. Have to confess that I have only a mild case of what a friend of mine calls GWS (Gotta Write Syndrome)—a pathological urge to rearrange reality in the form of fiction or poetry. For me GWS is chronic but rarely acute.

When you reach a certain age, you begin to wonder about things like whether your life has some kind of meaning attached to it. That’s happened to me, so naturally I’ve been playing around with a memoir—that is, when I’m not teaching or tweeting for LPR or giving talks on immigration for Indivisible or playing Uno with my grandson. I’ve got 12 chapters in the drawer, and the kid version of me has reached only age 10. I’m curious to see how it will turn out.

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