Issue #92 — August 30, 2011
For this week’s feature article, we interviewed Kate Rutledge Jaffe (left) and Josh Fomon (right) of CutBank Literary Magazine.
Interview conducted by Kit Frick
Sapling: CutBank has been published by the University of Montana’s Creative Writing Program for 38 years now! That’s a lot of issues. Can you tell us a little about the editorial process of working at a university-run journal, especially one that changes hands editorially every year or two?
Kate Rutledge Jaffe & Josh Fomon: CutBank has been entirely graduate-student-run since the very beginning. Current editors actively mentor incoming editors. This means everything from running through procedures to introducing editors around town to various Missoula literary notables, to walking through the safest and speediest envelope-licking practices. What’s awesome: each editor brings his or her own style and vision to the magazine, which we hope results in fresh and exciting content issue-to-issue. That said, we hold ourselves to a high standard of continuity and aesthetics. We endeavor to stay true toCutBank’s integrity by paying homage to our Montana heritage while always keeping an eye out for great work from new and established writers around the world.
S: What is the first thing that you look for in a submission to CutBank?
JF: I immediately react to estranged pieces, though this doesn’t mean strange (but I feel like we love strangeness at CutBank); a piece will set itself apart by taking a deep breath and daring to find the volition to jump off a cliff. Flight wasn’t invented for the weak of heart and writing shouldn’t be either. Having my heart shattered is always great too; the element of surprise is a bullet when employed masterfully.
KRJ: I couldn’t agree more. I’m always asking myself, How is this fresh, different, off-kilter yet accessible? If it’s stylistically traditional, I’m hoping the plot will flip my world upside-down; if it’s an unconventional format, I want to get my footing before being carried away. I’m looking to be absorbed by the submission—and to emerge on the other side with my clothes on backwards and my hair all a mess. A great piece will change the reader from start to finish. Whether it does so quietly, subversively, or outrageously is part of the discovery. To some extent, that’s what I look for in everything I read—a startling or transformative experience.
S: In what ways would you say that CutBank distinguishes itself from other literary journals? This could be in terms of content, style, aesthetics, management, and/or any other features that come to mind.
KRJ: We’ve described ourselves as “global in scope, but with a regional bias.” But what does that mean? Here’s my interpretation: CutBank showcases a unique marriage between fantastic writing from all over the world and work that’s especially engaged with The West. We also highlight more creative nonfiction than many mags—and with an eye for the unconventional essay. We do our best to put artwork in dialogue with literature. And that’s part of my all-time favorite editorial task: building the literary mix-tape. In an issue ofCutBank, each piece leads into the next, all in support of a greater magazine-long narrative. If we’ve done our job, you should have a cohesive, delightfully strange experience cover-to-cover.
JF: Continuing with the topic of strangeness, I think CutBank has a peculiar affinity with the odd and the idiosyncratic. In particular, we love poetry and prose that is slightly jilted from work you will see in most university-run lit mags. I think the cover and art of our current issue, 75, is truly a testament to that. I hope that people love Courtney Blazon’s Elkicorn as much as we do.
S: As outgoing and incoming Editors-in-Chief, what would you say is the hardest part of your job? The best part?
JF: Thus far, I think the hardest part is preparing for next year so that things go smoothly. Already there have been so many built-in dilemmas where I’ve contacted Kate simply with “help.” Acclimating to this position is probably my biggest task right now. The best part has definitely been contributing to the creation of 75. Though, checking tasks off a list is oddly satisfying.
KRJ: We do a lot of work just to keep CutBank thriving—fundraising, outreach, pyrotechnics—and we’re a small operation of mostly volunteers, so that presents real challenges. That said, editing the magazine has been a remarkably rewarding experience. Culling great work from unsolicited manuscripts, editing issues 74 and 75 alongside my awesome editors, and in the process coming to a greater understanding of Montana’s literary legacy—those were all highlights.
S: In addition to the standard wisdom of reading back issues and following the submission guidelines on the website, what advice would you give to writers who are interested in submitting to CutBank?
KRJ: I know it’s a cliché, but send your best work. If it excites you, there’s a good chance it’ll excite our editors, too. Send us work that pushes the boundaries—structurally, thematically—and keeps the reader curious and engaged from start to finish.
JF: I definitely agree with Kate; strong work will stand out immediately. Having the temerity to exude authority over work will do leaps and bounds more than a submission where a writer isn’t confident in his or her work. We love work that pushes the writer as much as the writing.
S: Other than CutBank, of course, what literary journals do you most admire?
JF: I am particularly smitten with Caketrain, Black Warrior Review, Action Yes, H_ngm_n,Fence, Octopus, and the now defunct Cannibal. All of these journals pay as much attention to aesthetic design as they do the work, which I really appreciate. At CutBank we believe that the book is a beautiful object of art and strive to put together something that is pleasurable to simply hold; the aforementioned journals do a monumental job of creating something to behold.
KRJ: Yes! And there are so many amazing journals out there right now. I would add Salt Hill for, among many things, its tremendous design, Glimmer Train and The Indiana Review for consistently showcasing excellent writing, and Versal and DIAGRAM for their audacious and impressive work.
S: Who are your favorite living writers?
KRJ: I’ve been blown away by the authors featured in issues 74 and 75. I’d add to those names a few notable fiction writers I’m reading and re-reading right now: Deborah Eisenberg, J. Robert Lennon, Kelly Link, Kevin Moffett, Lorrie Moore, Haruki Murakami, and Marilynne Robinson.
JF: I have to agree with Kate again about issues 74 and 75 (I promise there are things we disagree on!). Through CutBank, I was introduced to Emily Carr who has mind-blowing work (13 ways of happily is stellar!). Other poets include Tomaž Šalamun, Aase Berg, Cole Swensen, Peter Richards, Michael Dumanis, and my friend Emileigh Barnes. Her poems push limits that are so far from where I thought limits existed.
To learn more about CutBank, visit: http://www.cutbankonline.org/.
Kate Rutledge Jaffe‘s creative work has been published or is forthcoming in Narrative, The Adirondack Review, Caketrain, Cold Mountain Review, and others, and was awarded the Fulton Prize in Short Fiction, the Matt Clark Prize in Poetry, and third place in Glimmer Train‘s Short Story Award for New Writers. Her editorial work can be found in Hope Deferred: Narratives of Zimbabwean Lives (McSweeney’s, 2010). Originally from the Pacific Northwest, she lives in Missoula, MT where she’s an MFA candidate at the University of Montana.
A native of Iowa City, Josh Fomon is an MFA candidate at the University of Montana and serves as Editor-in-Chief for CutBank. He has poems forthcoming from Caketrain and iO: A Journal of New American Poetry. He contributes poetry book reviews for Read This Awesome Book at http://readthisawesomebook.