Whatever Happened to Max Headroom?

By Michael Nye

This past Tuesday was my class’s first of four Skype conversations with a literary magazine editor. Since we’re in Columbia, Missouri, rather than New York or Chicago, technology is the best way for my students to get exposure to a magazine culture other than The Missouri Review. Last week, we were joined by Karyna McGlynn and Zachary Martin, the managing editor and editor, respectively, of Gulf Coast.

Gulf Coast is the literary magazine based at the University of Houston. The magazine is approximately thirty years old, started by Donald Barthleme, and is currently entirely run by the PhD students at UH. Along with being a true miscellany (publishing fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and book reviews), Gulf Coast also has a commitment to visual art, and the magazine will always publish two visual artists. GC is biannual, thicker than TMR, and has a current cover that has created a polarizing response.

Why did I want my class to talk to Gulf Coast? First, I wanted them to speak to Karyna. I make sure that several editors that my class speaks to are women; in the past semesters, my class has Skyped with Andrea Martucci (formerly of Ploughshares), Roxane Gay (PANK), Cara Adams (formerly of Southern Review), Stephanie G’Schwind (Colorado Review), Sophie Beck (The Normal School), Marianne Kunkel (Prairie Schooner) and Halimah Marcus (Electric Literature). Second, I wanted to speak to a magazine run by students. Third, Karyna is a poet, giving my students a chance to ask questions about the writing life.

I can’t publicly repeat anything that Karyna told the class. One of the things I promise the editors that Skype with my class is that their conversation remains private. Not that she divulged any amazing secrets, like, you know, Mary Gaitskill is actually a Soviet spy or anything like that (besides: everyone already knows that …) but when I tell our virtual visitors that they can speak to our class off the record, I mean it.

Each of my students prepared three questions in advance. These questions could be on any topic relevant to writing, publishing, or editing. I set up a projector and laptop, so my students can see my screen (and, consequently, Karyna) easily on a pull-down screen; the disadvantage is that Karyna can only see the person directly in front of the monitor. For the first thirty minutes, unfortunately for Karyna, that was me. The next thirty minutes, I turn it over to the students to ask their questions. With fourteen students in the class, there isn’t enough time to ask forty-two questions; further, what they want to know, what they might ask, shifts based on my dialogue with Karyna. It’s a little awkward waiting for someone to get in the chair, but, hey, the setup isn’t perfect. The whole thing takes an hour, though we were chatty and ran over by about fifteen minutes. Karyna and Zach didn’t seem to mind.

One of the exciting things is also one of the scariest things about publishing: there are no rules. When I say “publishing” here, I mean all of it: writer, editor, publisher, and even non-profit work (say, the wonderful Arizona Poetry Center). Many of my students, if they are honest, only have a vague idea of what they want to do. And, in universities now, humanities students desire a specific road map (do this, then do this, then do this…) to get where they are going. While saying so may reveal big dreams and lots of ego—say, being a famous writer with Big Important Books that Say Something, or being a New York editor with a corner office in Manhattan that looks like something out of a Nora Ephron movie—having those wishes is a good thing. Aim big, and all that. So it’s important for TMR to point out how different that imagined landscape is from reality.

With publishing becoming such a diverse field, and the opportunities going in so many different directions, one of the things I hope to offer that will be useful to everyone is exposure. Getting access to these four editors, seeing what a magazine other than TMR looks like from the inside, should be, in theory, beneficial. We’ll see how it all turns out.

p.s. Yes, I know the image at the top of this post is Eminem not Max Headroom, but, listen, I already make tons of pop culture references from the 80s and 90s that my students don’t understand. Throw me a bone here, okay?

Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye