Posted on Tuesday, January 28, 2014 by Lindsey Westbrook
Eleven Eleven is a graduate Writing course; a journal of prose, poetry, and art; and a force to be reckoned with on the national -- even international -- literary scene. It’s the reason Candace Hoes (MFA Writing 2014) decided to attend CCA, and she’s taken the Eleven Eleven course every semester she’s been here: “I’ve been the managing editor, webmaster, Ad/Swap coordinator, fiction editing team member, and Koi Pond* coordinator.”
Eleven Eleven is also a network, as faculty editor Hugh Behm-Steinberg explains. “It’s a web of connections and relationships among writers, translators, visual artists, publishers, and galleries. And us: the faculty and staff and students.”
Roughly 75 percent of the content is solicited, and the students make all the final decisions about what is selected for inclusion in the publication. “At the beginning of the semester, we organize a prose staff and a poetry staff,” says Behm-Steinberg.
“The students draw up lists of writers they want to solicit, and then approach them to contribute. At the same time, they’re reading through the pool of 300 to 500 unsolicited submissions that have come in since the last issue -- the ‘slush pile’ -- and the gems culled from that make up the remainder of the issue.
“They also generate content themselves; everyone is responsible for writing a book review, or conducting and editing an interview. And they learn about journalistic ethics and the practicalities of running a publication. There’s budgeting with the printer, design, layout, proofreading. Everything happens in-house. The students do everything, from soup to nuts.”
Journey to Litquake
Eleven Eleven always participates in Litquake, the massive Bay Area literary event that takes place every October. That’s when the students make a lot of solicitations, Hoes explains, since the writers are physically there and it’s easy to show them the journal, explain the kinds of writing they’re looking for, and make invitations face-to-face.
“Litquake really brought me out of my shell! I got to speak to authors I really admired, and ask them to submit work. A lot of them were very agreeable. Several of the pieces I asked for ended up in the publication. That was really rewarding.”
In fall 2013 Charlie Radka (MFA Writing 2015) was the marketing director, responsible for raising awareness of Eleven Eleven both within CCA and externally. She also managed social media. “I’m proud that this semester we made staff and faculty at CCA much more aware of the journal. And I’m planning to establish some concrete goals for next semester in terms of external marketing.”
A Larger Conversation
Eleven Eleven alternates between a printed issue of 1,500 copies (produced over the spring semester) and an online issue (produced over the fall semester). Locally, its peers include 580 Split, produced by Mills College, and Fourteen Hills, produced by San Francisco State.
But it is also part of a larger, national conversation with journals such as Fence, Denver Quarterly, Paris Review, Drunken Boat, and Octopus. “Many of them have budgets way bigger than we do,” observes Behm-Steinberg, “but we’re publishing work that’s at the same very high level.”
Each issue always includes a lot of art, and the students routinely collaborate with local galleries such as Wendi Norris, Electric Works, Kala Art Institute, and Krowswork to discover and secure the rights to reproduce pieces by artists from the Bay Area and beyond. (Issue 15’s lovely cover is by the Toronto artist Howie Tsui.)
And when the contributors see the finished product -- in particular the meticulous care that has gone into the sequencing, and the juxtapositions of art and text -- “The first thing they say is that it’s gorgeous!” Behm-Steinberg enthuses. “That really matters to us a lot. The fact that we’re a writing program housed in an art and design school raises the bar. I can’t have my graphic design colleagues mocking our work!”
“Last semester, we asked several students from the Graduate Program in Design to help us rethink the page layout, the margins, the typefaces, et cetera,” says Hoes. “We’re always making small refinements in the design. When we take Eleven Eleven to the Association of Writing Programs (AWP), which is where a lot of people first encounter it, they just love paging through it. You can tell.”
Working the Tables at AWP
AWP is the biggest book fair of independent publishers in the world, and the largest gathering of creative writers in the United States. Roughly 20,000 poets, fiction writers, and essayists converge there annually.
“We always have a table,” says Behm-Steinberg, “and our students staff it. We sell lots of copies, and we make lots of contacts and connections. The next AWP is in Seattle, so we’re going to send a large contingent of students up there.”
A Gem in the Slush Pile
Andrew Bonfils (MFA Writing 2015) says his claim to fame in issue 16 involved spotting a true gem in the slush pile. “A writer named W. Todd Kaneko sent in these amazing professional-wrestling poems. I don’t like wrestling, but Kaneko uses it as a way to talk about his relationship with his father. Wrestling actually has nothing to do with what he’s saying; it’s just a framing device. It’s brilliantly done.”
Issue 16 also features, translated for the very first time into English, poems written between 1907 and 1920 by the famous Russian abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky. “We have a great working relationship with the Russian-English translator Alex Cigale,” says Behm-Steinberg, “which has led to us being the venue for publishing several Russian Silver Age poets. Kandinsky is such an important figure in the history of art, and his poetry is really startling and strange. Way ahead of its time.”
Another translator they’ve worked with for a long time is Eric Selland, whose specialty is Japanese modernist poetry. Issue 13 featured the first English translations of poems that Ryôichi Wago live-tweeted during the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Awards & Accolades
Pieces first published in the journal have gone on to appear in Best of the Web and Pushcart Prize anthologies as well as books that later won the Pulitzer Prize, the Governor General’s Award (Canada’s highest literary award), the Lambda Literary Award, and the Pen/Faulkner Award. Edward Gauvin’s translation of Thierry Horguelin’s “The Man in the Yellow Parka,” which appeared in issue 15, was selected for Dalkey Archive Press’s Best European Fiction 2014 anthology.
Many of the students from the course go on to intern with 826 Valencia, which is part of McSweeney’s, Dave Eggers’s publishing empire. A number of them have gone on to start their own publications, as well. Jeff Von Ward (MFA Writing 2012) publishes Samizdat and collaborates with Autumn Darbrow (MFA Writing 2013) to produce Writing Without Walls. Kevin Whiteley (MFA Writing 2009) publishes Criminal Class Review.
And as the body of alumni from the MFA Program in Writing gains critical mass, the journal is increasingly committed to showcasing their work. Alumni featured in issue 15 include Andrew S. Nicholson (2006), LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs (2008), Hazel White (2005), Jønathan Lyons (2005), and Ted Rees (2010) as well as fine art alumna Linda Michel-Cassidy (MFA 2006).
Alumni featured in issue 16 include Dan Encarnacion (2002), Nana K. Twumasi (2007), Steffi Drewes (2006), and undergrad alumna Chelsea Martin (Individualized Major 2008).
Eleven Eleven also reserves ad space in each issue to promote the publishing projects of CCA students and alumni.
* Koi Pond is the biweekly “issue within the issue,” where staff highlight their favorite work from the collective online issues of Eleven Eleven. All the “elevens,” FYI, are a play on CCA’s San Francisco campus address, 1111 Eighth Street.