Campus News

Digital version of UB’s undergraduate magazine works to build literary community

Quarantine issue of Name literary magazine.

The “Quarantine Issue” is Name’s first online issue.

By BERT GAMBINI

Published June 25, 2020

Print
“Art production isn’t easily moved from coffee tables to computer screens. But, as a staff, we were already thinking about an online companion for our printed work when the pandemic forced us to move the entire magazine issue online. ”
Christina Milletti, associate professor
Department of English

Name Magazine, the English department’s undergraduate literature and arts magazine, has seen a lot of changes since its founding in 2000, but nothing like this year’s shift to an online format.

Name has always been a small-batch creation, nearly artisanal in concept, which wraps its innovative prose and poetry in socially, culturally or politically responsive covers.  Unlike many journals, especially undergraduate ones, Name Magazine has always considered form and function — both in writing and in the magazine’s design — crucial to its mission.

“The Unbound Issue” housed individual “unbound” pages in a clear envelope that encouraged readers to decide themselves how to read or order the journal’s contents. In 2016, for an election year that coincided with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, Name assumed a playbill’s shape, divided into five “acts” accompanied by Shakespearian-themed political cartoons that reinforced campaign issues. The 2017 “Border Wall” issue was cleverly “locked” (with a knitting marker) so that readers had to open the wrap-around wall on the cover to gain entry to the work inside. And the 2018 “#MeNext” issue encouraged students to consider how gun control has impacted their lives.

“We have always tried to make readers think about how words and ideas act upon them, to consider what writing does to the body as much as the mind,” says Christina Milletti, associate professor of English who has served as Name’s faculty adviser for the past eight years. “We are creating a magazine that is an art object from cover to cover, not just a magazine that holds content.”

But the same qualities that established Name as a unique literary and artistic offering represented challenges for its contributors as they tried to adapt a handcrafted creation for the web.

“Art production isn’t easily moved from coffee tables to computer screens,” Milletti says. “But, as a staff, we were already thinking about an online companion for our printed work when the pandemic forced us to move the entire magazine issue online.”

During quarantine, meeting in person became impossible. The software required for print publication was inaccessible at the library. So the team took the online leap.

Ironically, while COVID-19 shut many extracurricular activities down in spring 2020, the pandemic also created an environment for creative writing and creative thinking to mingle in a new medium. Instead of going on hiatus and skipping the issue, Name responded to a historical moment in a way that required the previously close-knit team to work remotely and fashion the first electronic issue in Name’s 20-year history.

The “Quarantine Issue,” Name’s first online edition of undergraduate poetry, prose and art by students from across the university is now available to readers. Featuring a cover photograph of the Peace Bridge shot from the currently closed Bird Island Pier (for “public safety”), Name introduces its 2020 editorial staff as a Zoom gallery screenshot, while the writers and artists in the issue all donned masks for their author photos. Most striking is the fully realized artistic interface that has transformed what was previously a hand-held journal into a magazine that can now be enjoyed on a hand-held device.

“Many activities that have moved to a remote platform because of the pandemic have lost a dynamic,” Milletti says. “We’re lucky: Name instead gained a dynamic.”

And perhaps a larger audience.

Due to its “small batch” nature, Name historically had a limited circulation of roughly 200 copies, but this year’s web version has the capacity to develop a much larger readership while at the same time encouraging development of an online community. A new blog, with a first entry by editor-in-chief John Madsen reflecting on student life during quarantine, will help to further enhance that outreach. As he writes: “I want to say keep writing. That right now the best thing I can do is write. Record my nowness and share it with others. Read. No ‘but’s. Writing is so activated and self-activating. We need it to imagine social possibility and new ways to organize ourselves.”

Those “new ways to organize” require imagination. But, as Milletti says, that’s precisely the role Name plays with her staff. “We want our students to feel like they’re part of a literary community, both on campus and in the world once they graduate, and you often learn how to lead a literary life by modeling it from others. Or from organizations like Name.” She adds: “Now that we have a blog and, in the fall, are starting a Name Literary Club — which can take place in person or remotely — we’re hoping to continue modeling how words matter, the importance of writing and reading to all our futures, especially in chaotic times.”

In the new Name Literary Club, students will get together to talk about and share their writing, discuss new books they’re reading, and most importantly, connect in a way that brings the university community together.

Milletti is clearly proud of her staff. “In the midst of crisis that affected both their personal and academic lives, our student writers have been able to create an engaging artistic response to this moment. In the process, they have maintained the journal’s mission, while potentially building a new audience that, we hope, will become a lasting local community.”