You have seen the crazy cover. Or perhaps you have heard the title thrown around the English department. Or just maybe you have spotted a copy on your creative writing teacher’s desk. And you have wondered.
Countless issues of Crazyhorse have been woven throughout the College’s community, undoubtedly crossing each student’s path at one point or another. But most have not taken the time to look past the cover.
“Most people in this country don’t know what the f*** a literary magazine is…,” said Jonathan Bohr Heinen, Crazyhorse Managing Editor and creative writing professor at the College.
At the ripe age of 20, at the time a student at Oklahoma State University, a young Heinen fell in love with Crazyhorse. Since then, he has understood its prestige as one of the top literary journals in the country, and he followed it to the College when an editorial position opened.
“I was really blown away by the design, the layout—I thought it was a very beautiful and bold magazine,” Heinen said. “The contents were wonderful…It’s just one of those things where you see something and have an affinity for it…and it stuck with me, which is not always the case when you look at literary magazines.”
The respected literary journal has been housed at the College since 2001, a rare situation as most journals usually have homes at bigger, more research-based state schools. It was author and faculty member Brett Lott who brought the magazine from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to the College, and he, along with three other professors from the creative writing department, run the journal on their own. Lott, Heinen, Anthony Varallo and Emily Rosko work diligently to produce the biyearly product. They have to filter through roughly 10,000 submissions each issue. The final product works to give contemporary American literature a home through a coveted collection of 12 stories, six essays, and an estimated 100 poems.
Among their editorial duties lies a very important decision: the cover. Each editor gets to choose the design every fourth issue, leaving each editor with complete creative control every two years.
“I love the axiom, or it’s more like a platitude, ‘you can’t judge a book by the cover,’” Heinen said. “But that’s not true—I mean often you can. If you see a sailor with a ripped blouse and a really shredded chest and abdominal muscles on the cover of a book, you have an expectation of what that is, right?…So we try to find covers that have the same artistic merit that we think of when we think of our work that we’re publishing.”
The content of Crazyhorse serves as a sneak peek to what the general public will see on bookshelves a few years from now. Literary journals, in general, serve to lead the way to the talent of tomorrow, making them necessary to the literary world.
“Agents, editors and publishers have grown to depend on the literary magazine to operate as a vetting process for potential authors,” Heinen said. “Agents trust us to make decisions about what’s good. And when an author approaches them for representation or when an agent’s taking an author to a publisher to sell a book, when they see credentials like that it shapes the way they understand that person’s work.”
Crazyhorse offers a chance for authors, usually fresh off their masters degrees, to gain attention early in their careers. In the world of literary journals, Crazyhorse has a very large following of about 3,000 subscribers. Issue 89 will be released this spring.
The magazine will take on a new role next year as a teaching tool to the College’s new MFA program. This will give students a chance to understand the process of submitting work to a literary journal.
“The knowledge of how those things operate makes the life of the writer a little more clear,” Heinen explained. “You pull back the curtain and you see the wizard there moving all the buttons, so it’s no longer a mystery.”
Heinen sees understanding how a piece is selected or rejected as a great lesson, as it teaches the students that rejection is not personal, and does not necessarily mean a piece is bad. With such limited space, even good pieces are cut when they do not fit the aesthetics of the issue.
Beyond its local life as a teaching tool and faculty masterpiece, Crazyhorse renders respect nationally and brings that respect home to the College. Crazyhorse gives authors an advantage in the writing community and gives its readers a taste of the upcoming trends and writers.
“Literary magazines will always have a place in American arts and letters,” Heinen said. “They’re instrumental….There’s a value there that can’t be underestimated. I’ve seen some of them go to more online formatting, but I think that print journals will be around for a long time. Damn I hope that’s true, because otherwise I don’t know what I’m going to do—I have no other skills. Other than teaching.”