Behind the pages of the Colonnades

Readers play a central role in the production of Elon's literary and art journal, which will publish its 70th edition this spring

by Julia Oakes ’22

This spring, the art and literary journal Colonnades will publish its 70th edition featuring works of poetry fiction, nonfiction, art and design by Elon students.

But what readers see is the final product. The behind-the-scenes work, particularly by the readers, is where the magic happens.

Reading for a literary magazine is a meticulous process. It requires attention to detail, an eye for story development and a thorough understanding of any underlying meanings or intents. Literary magazine readers must follow a piece from its beginning to its end, while following the writer through voids of emotions, words and unspoken purposes in between.

The process of selecting the pieces that make it into the magazine begins with the editor-in-chief, who reads each submitted piece. Those are then filtered into four of the journal’s literary categories: fiction, nonfiction, poetry and art. Each section editor is tasked with reading all the pieces in their given section. Then, the works move on to the readers.

Unlike the editor-in-chief and section editors, readers are able to contribute a sense of impartiality, as they are not told the authors’ names prior to reading each piece, which is what makes their jobs so demanding.

“Readers don’t get the names of the authors, which is a huge thing for us,” Colonnades editor-in-chief Natalia Conte ’19 said. “That anonymity allows them to really give their honest opinions about each piece independent of the author’s name or information.”

Katee Fletcher ’20, a Colonnades poetry reader for three years, added that having a second set of eyes on each piece is crucial because “sometimes there are things that your audience just isn’t getting.”

Naturally, many readers are English majors, but readers from other areas of study are not hard to come by. In fact, there is just as much of a need for non-English majors, as they are able to provide “a good lens” for what the Elon community wants to see in the next publication, Conte said.

“Some of them aren’t even English majors,” Conte said, “so it’s nice to see what the majority of Elon wants to see in a literary collection.”

Most of the submissions tend to come from students in creative writing courses, as many professors make a submission to the organization a mandatory assignment, which Conte appreciates.

“It allows us to see some pieces that people might be a little shy about still, and it’s helpful for us to keep those pieces in consideration,” Conte said.

Nevertheless, anyone may submit a piece for review. Submissions come in by the hundreds, yet only about 50 are published. That ratio speaks for itself: Getting published in Colonnades is a competitive and selective process.

And so, Fletcher said, readers typically keep certain criteria in mind when sifting through submissions. First and foremost, they consider a piece’s development. Is it closer to finished, or is it in a preliminary stage?

“As writers, we all have our own unique style and our own progression,” Fletcher said. “I just think sometimes you can tell a piece that’s more developed and maybe a writer who has come more into their style and more into their comfort zone.”

In addition to development, readers begin to identify a theme based on the submissions they’ve received.

“As we continue to read pieces and really see all of the editions that are coming in, we can get more of a theme in mind for what we want the magazine to be that year,” Fletcher said. “So towards the end when we’re deciding between those last few pieces, sometimes it has to come down to what’s going to fit the theme.”

For those pieces under critical review, readers and editors will make suggestions to the writer, followed by meetings with the writer to discuss the revisions. At this point in the process, the priority of the organization is to ensure that the writer is comfortable with and confident in their piece and that the writer’s individual style comes through in their work.

“We provide them suggestions and feedback whether it’s good or bad, and then our editor takes those comments along with his or her comments on the piece and sends that back to the writer,” Fletcher said. “At the end of the day, it’s ultimately in the writer’s hands what they want to do with the piece and what they’re comfortable with.”

Not only does Fletcher find a great sense of enjoyment in reading the works of so many others, but she finds reading different pieces both inspiring and enlightening.

“I think through being a reader it’s made me a better writer in the sense of getting to be more exposed to other really great writers who are in reach of our community, and even seeing what they have to say and having that inspire your own work.”