A Conversation with Morgan LaRocca

By Carolin Harvey

Milkweed Editions is an independent literary press based in Minneapolis. The press is a nonprofit organization that emphasizes unique stories of individuals and communities from around the world.

Morgan LaRocca (they/she/them) is the publicist at Milkweed and a 2018 graduate of Towson University’s English program. I had the opportunity to chat with Morgan about their experiences as a publicist and their time at Towson. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

CH: So how did you get started with Milkweed in 2022?

ML: Let’s see. At the time, I was doing freelance publicity. I was friends with professional buddies, for lack of a better word, through the Minneapolis community. The publicist had approached me about applying to be a publicist there and kind of work below her. I was pretty content with freelancing at that time, so I didn’t apply. But then she left, and I went in, and the conversation quickly went from freelancing to an interview for the position. And then I got offered the job, and it seemed like a really good fit. So I decided to take their offer, and I’ve been there since July of 2022. 

CH: Congrats on that! What’s it like working remotely?

ML: So, I wanted to come back to Baltimore for quite a few reasons. Let’s see. I coincidentally started dating someone who lives here, and we didn’t really want to do long distance. A big part of it, too, is that Jeannie Vanasco is a huge mentor of mine and creative collaborator. I also wanted to be closer to her, to be able to do things at Towson, and help people from my own community in Baltimore. I decided to negotiate to work remotely, and they went for it, which is great. I think it’s really strategic for a publicist to be on the East Coast because I can take media appointments. I can go to New York pretty easily for them. The way that my remote work works is that I go back to Minneapolis three times a year. So I’ll be there once in the fall, once in the summer, and once in the spring. I don’t go in the winter.

CH: Yeah, I don’t blame you.

ML: I really can’t function in the winter there.

CH: Very fair.

ML: It’s very nice to have a lot of focused work and then to have these really meaningful months at a time where I’m engaging with my team. It just has worked really well for the particular situation that I’m in.

CH: That’s great. What’s a typical day like for you?

ML: I think that’s kind of the best thing about being a publicist is that it really varies, and I’m someone who needs that in my life. But often I’ll be working on media sends, doing research, or putting lists together for books. I will create and design press releases, write letters and pitches. I do database entry collecting all the reviews about our books. I run our Twitter, which is really fun. I do a lot of event outreach, asking venues if they have availability on their calendar and coordinating all the logistics around events for authors. A lot of it is just being the communication hub for everyone. Answering any questions that authors have is a huge piece of my job. And then I do all of the awards. Next month, the National Book Award is due, so that’s going to be a big month. Yeah, I think that’s kind of a day in the life of a publicist pretty generally.

CH: And do you typically work seven days a week, or is it more the typical Monday through Friday?

ML: In full transparency, that varies. I am the sole publicist for 28 books, which is a lot. So depending on where we are in the season, sometimes I work seven days a week, sometimes I work five days a week. There’s a lot of encouragement to log off when it’s time to log off. I think that the tricky thing is, for example, if The New York Times emailed me and the editor there is on a deadline, or the freelance journalist there is on a deadline, and that’s on a Sunday night, I don’t really have a choice. So that’s just something that I’m always navigating: how to set realistic boundaries and also get the work done. I think that’s not a unique issue, especially for publicists and especially for anyone that’s working in a nonprofit. I like to be transparent about that because I think it’s something that people have to take into consideration when they’re trying to figure out what they want to do as a job.

CH: Thank you for being so candid about all that. What’s the most important aspect of being a publicist to you? 

ML: I think the most important aspect of it to me is ensuring that the book is honored and really understood when it’s received into the world. You’re helping someone’s dreams come true, for lack of a better word. It just feels good when a review comes in, and the reviewer really gets it. Or there’s an event that creates this deeper connection with the reader or the person who’s joining the author in conversation. And the book then kind of takes on a different life off of the page and really gets to be in the world in a new form. Just to know that some of my thought-work has had a small part in the way the book is moving feels really satisfying to me. 

CH: That’s awesome. Now transitioning into your time at Towson—while at TU,  how did your career goals and interests change over time?

ML: I was a speech pathology major. At first, I was really interested in languages, but I think I was someone who wanted to have a clear sense of a direct connection to my degree and to a job. And then I switched over to English because I just realized that I really loved to write, and I wanted to use my college experience as a place to be a thinker and to be in a community. I didn’t ever really think I was going to be able to do publishing. I think I secretly, in my heart of hearts, always wanted it, but I didn’t think it was something that someone like me could do. I think there’s always this sheen around publishing that it’s kind of for the elite in some way, or, like, you have to know someone to get into it. So, I had really shut that door for myself, and I ended up taking an internship at a financial publishing house. But through that work, I was like, wow, okay, I have a broader sense of how publishing works. Not like literary publishing, but how the sausage is made a little bit. I took a class with Jeannie, or Professor Vanasco, and at that point, I was a huge follower and fan of Tin House. So, I read a lot of Tin House on my bad days at Barnes and Noble. I followed them on Instagram and all of a sudden, Jeannie’s face just kept popping up on their Instagram.

CH: Oh?

ML: It was really funny. It was actually like this very zoomed in picture of her, and it was just like a panel on their Instagram. And I was like, “Why is my professor’s face plastered all over Tin House’s Instagram?” Bizarre. And then, as you probably know, Jeannie was publishing a book with them at that time. I think this was for The Glass Eye, so this is like a throwback. I went up to her after class, and she explained that she was a forthcoming author. And I was like, “Oh my gosh, I love Tin House—it would be so dreamy, something inconceivable, if I was able to work there—I would be obsessed with that.” And she said, “Oh, well, you should apply to the internship.” And so I did. And then I got it, and I moved to Portland.

CH: Wow.

ML: Yeah, it was a big jump. I graduated a year early from college, so I kind of treated that year as my fourth year of university and was like, this is a learning experience, and I’m going to go all in. Basically pay tuition to myself and invest in myself in that way. 

CH: Oh, that’s super cool. What advice would you give to students looking to pursue some kind of career in publishing?

ML: I think my biggest piece of advice is that you deserve to be there. Even if you’re just starting out in any career or field, knowing that it’s not something that was given to you, it’s something that you’ve earned. And because of that, you can advocate for what you need, even in an entry-level position. Oftentimes, publishing is the type of industry that I felt very early in my career that I just have to do everything that I’m assigned to do very quickly. I can’t say no to anything. I’m just so lucky to be here, and I can’t really set boundaries for myself. And I think that there are great ways to be able to kind of advocate for yourself when you get into the job, so that you can keep it sustainable for yourself to learn and grow.

CH: For sure, yeah, that’s great. 

ML: So that’s always my pep talk to myself.  I’m advocating for what I’m capable of offering, instead of just feeling like because I landed the job, I have to do anything that’s thrown my way very intensely. We all have capacities, and I think that that helps an organization, too, if you’re able to communicate when you’re at capacity. I would also say it never hurts to ask. People are always excited to do informational interviews or just connect and hear about what’s motivating you. And most of the time, if someone doesn’t respond, it’s not because they don’t want to, but maybe because they’re too busy, and you can always nudge them. I think especially in publishing, it never hurts to ask and come out of a space of curiosity, especially when you’re first getting your bearings.

The Many Forms of Grub Street

By Cora McDaniel


In early March, I met with Felicity Knox, the assistant university archivist at TU’s Special Collections and University Archives (lovingly referred to as SCUA) to talk with her about the history of Grub Street

For those who aren’t aware, archives (including ours at TU) play a vital role in the academic community. They meticulously collect materials of historical value in order to preserve and protect that which would otherwise be lost to the everyday chaos of life. These materials can range from yearbooks to student newspapers… to old editions of Grub Street. If you go to the SCUA website, you can see, laid out before you, digitized copies of every Towson literary magazine published from 1952-2022. These would eventually culminate in the Grub Street we know and love today. 

As part of my conversation with Ms. Knox, she offered me the opportunity to hold in my hands some early editions of our student literary magazine, each of which had different names. I saw copies of The Publication, Towers, and The Talisman—each of which contained vastly different artwork and literature. Much like Grub Street has today, there was always a poetry and prose section, however the art wouldn’t appear in the magazine until the 1952-53 edition of The Publication

Strangely enough, the most interesting sections to read through were the editor’s notes and the front and back matter of the magazine; this was where the voices the magazine’s staff came through most, and the drama (when there was any) was published in well-hidden niceties and dreadfully formal language. The magazine’s first name change, for instance, occurred because of a conflict between Towson’s student newspaper (The Towerlight, an organization which still exists today) and The Publication

In 1956, The Towerlight (known then as The Tower Light) published an article which stated that the literary magazine should change their name to something, “more stimulating, and yet in keeping with the nature of the magazine.” After some deliberation, the name Towers was eventually decided on—and changed, once again, soon thereafter. Students on campus kept confusing The Towerlight and Towers (another wonderful moment of historical drama), thus compelling the magazine to change their name yet again. It would take more than 30 years for the magazine’s staff to finally settle on the name Grub Street. I found the process of reading through the magazine content beyond interesting. Eventually, I was able to see a story come through in my head. That’s the beauty of archives—you’re able to see a picture of the past that might otherwise not exist if an archivist hadn’t bothered to save it.

As with any materials held within an archive, its content can say a lot about the time period from which it was collected. Art made in the ‘70s would, naturally, reflect much about the cultural and historical happenings of that decade. The same can be said about Grub Street, in all of its wonderful and weird forms. So, if you’re interested in learning more about our phenomenal archives on-campus and Grub Street, read through a few of the older editions of our magazine. It’s fascinating. 

A review of Darren C. Demaree’s the luxury

by Elizabeth Forrest


In his newest book of poetry, the luxury, Darren C. Demaree explores the emotions and conflicts of navigating an ecological apocalypse. The book holds 59 poems on 59 pages—each divided into three meditative tercets that spill over with anger, frustration, and melancholy. The poems in the luxury are less about the natural world than they are about Demaree’s anxiety about its destruction, maintaining an anthropocentric lens throughout the collection. It is a bit like a found-footage horror film, with ragged heavy breaths and snatches of conversation and the deaths that occur off-screen—amorphous and terrifying. 

The pieces evoke frustration and a sense of impotence in witnessing a world that is changing due to a tide of human inaction. Demaree interrogates the ethics of our collective approach to stewardship, writing  “we know winter windows / all darken motherfuckers / are still using coal here // & may the flood find them first” (p. 37). There is the palpable friction of chafing against those you share a world with but not the same ethical perspective: “give me green land // or give me a culture that doesn’t roast the damn world” (p. 20).

In his uneasiness about the fate of the planet lies a desperation for the future his children will live in, which manifests as a sort of existentialism through parenthood. In his poems, Demaree examines his own choices and their environmental impact. Toward the end of the collection, Demaree confesses, “maybe having children / was a mistake…. i / needed them but my needs are / bringing forth the ocean” (p. 56).

One need only look around for a more explicit illustration of the world on fire. Not long after the publication of this book, Demaree’s home state of Ohio experienced a very public demonstration of environmental disaster when 38 cars of a Norfolk Southern train derailed, releasing hazardous materials. An eco-horrific landscape of billowing black smoke and raging (though purportedly controlled) fires realized a collective fear of catastrophe by human means. These concerns are readily accessible to anyone paying attention to their environment or paying attention to those who study it. In the luxury, Demaree empathetically models an ecological self-consciousness and self-examination for all of us living and dying in the anthropocene.


Review of Lillies on the Deathbed of Étaín and Other Poems

By Chase Hollobaugh


Lilies on the Deathbed of Étaín and Other Poems is the latest collection of poetry from Irish poet Oisín Breen. The collection contains two long-form works as well as four shorter poems. 

As someone who has traditionally only read short poems, I felt the long-form works were an adjustment, but their effect was not lessened by their length. My favorite of the two is “The Lovesong of Anna Rua.” The poem begins with the lines:

                     “Ha-ra-hao-  Ha-ra-hao- Rah-Hao- Ha-Rah-Hao-

                      Ha-ra-hao- Ha-ra-hao- Rah-Hao-”

which creates a sense of chanting in the poem. Breen continues this throughout the poem, using different words and phrases as each section develops. This singsong nature takes full effect, backed by added spaces between sounds, when the speaker says: “Anna- Aye-Anna- Aye-Anna- / Aye-.” Some of these chanting lines do get hard to parse, however, as Breen uses hyphens to create long strands of words that run into one another, such as with 


While these lines do require the reader to pay more attention to the poems, they serve to break up the ideas within, and allow readers to pause in between Breen’s sections of dense imagery. For example, Breen writes:

“Melancholias, forced fixed euphorias, thrills, spills, and

hackneyed blue-eyed boys and girls who, sunning

themselves, with ice-cream dripping down their noses,

as their faux-saintliness has gravity itself inverted,

conceive of nothing other than being like and unto one

and other”

in section three of the poem. From the first word, a reader’s mind is drawn into thoughts of sadness, only to be thrust back into a sense of joy with the paradoxical “euphorias.” The image of children enjoying ice cream is then thrown into contrast with the accusations of “faux saintliness.” The additional image of inverted gravity adds a surreal quality to these lines, and obfuscates the image of children playing in the sun and enjoying their ice creams. While these layered images can make the poem hard to parse, they do not make it impossible. If nothing else, a reader could get lost within the images, trying to imagine each and every scene, before connecting it back with the rest of the work and the meanings of the poems. While getting lost may affect reader enjoyment, it did not negatively impact me as I read through the poems.

If the long-form poems are intimidating, then the shorter poems will offer a more familiar option to readers of short form poetry. “Six Months Bought with Dirt: the Bothy Crop of Arranmore” may still seem intimidating to readers expecting short line lengths, as its stanzas more closely resemble paragraphs, but will no less offer an engaging reading experience to anyone who takes the time to imagine the pictures Breen is painting throughout each stanza. Lines like “They knelt in the dirt, above the worms, and seedlings / Dampened off, pressing their hands beneath the earth, seeking / A grip” create haunting images of farmers clutching at the ground, pulling it apart to tend their crop. These dense stanzas come together beautifully in the last three lines as well, as the speaker condenses the thoughts and motion of the poem into a succinct and lasting image.

  My favorite short-form work in the collection is “At Swim, Two Pair.” Once again, Breen constructs an eerie image as the speaker describes the declining marine life he is watching swim across the water. The poem repeats the line “Two pair, where once moved a score and six” at the middle and conclusion of the poem. This line, when combined with “mother, sister, and kin” in the first line invokes an image of 26 women swimming, as their number is slowly reduced to four. When combined with the animals mentioned in the last stanza, the image shifts to fish or other marine life that are hunted as they travel along waterways.

While much of the poetry within Lilies on the Deathbed of Étaín can feel heady and overwhelming with imagery to the reader, it rewards careful readings with an equal amount of depth. The collection boasts re-readability as well, as new meanings spring forth from the reader’s focus on different aspects of each poem. All in all, the collection contains a wealth of expansive imagery contained within six poems.

Exploring the Opposite Viewpoint in Five Tuesdays in Winter by Lily King

By Rileigh Hartman


 Lily King’s short story collection, Five Tuesdays in Winter, preserves an ever-constant pull towards love through affliction and desire. The second story of the collection, which the book is named after, details the love a bookseller has for his employee. Described as reticent by his preteen daughter, Mitchell’s longing for Kate is thoughtfully disguised through his silence. However, in the end, there is a twist; she had been falling for him too. Mitchell thought his feelings were unrequited until she caressed his cheek, the fullness in his chest reason enough to lean in. But now, the story begs the question of how it would read if Kate was the focus instead. To answer this (and nudge the irony), I wanted to use her viewpoint to explore the possibilities of who Kate may be and what she may have felt during the story.

~ ~ ~

  Kate followed Lincoln to Portland. She was estranged in their shared apartment; coasters under her water glass, clothes still tucked in boxes— she never planned to stay. But she didn’t like to think of herself as someone who wouldn’t find love, that she was incapable of it. She could charm anyone, but it always led to them misplacing her, forcing her into boxes she didn’t check. Sometimes, she believed that if she tried to fit where people thought she should go, she’d find love there. Or if she went against fitting in, then not finding love was more intentional than contingent. The only time Kate felt sheltered was between book covers.

  When Paula, Mitchell’s daughter, complained about her Spanish teacher one Saturday afternoon, Kate offered to help. If she was honest with herself, speaking Spanish again would only stir up memories of Peru she didn’t want to revisit. Maine was nice anyway: decent views and handsome company. Later on the first Tuesday evening, it took her longer to pick out an outfit. The bookstore was home by then, and she treated it as such in her secondhand jeans. But it felt different to be going into Mitchell’s home— she wanted to look like she wouldn’t fit. Then Mitchell stared at her for a moment longer than usual when he opened the door, and she was suddenly seamless; settled in his gaze as she remembered what it felt like to be wanted somewhere. During her time with Paula, Kate wanted to ask if Mitchell had seen other women since his wife left, but he didn’t seem like the type of person who’d try to find love twice.

  At Westy’s, Kate always searched for the Mitchell-renowned mushroom soup after he mentioned it to her, and the glimmer in his eyes appeared. It had been years since he’d seen it, but she still enjoyed their inside joke: fitting into a space she didn’t know could exist. Kate couldn’t bring herself to smother her smile when she saw Mushroom Soup written on the menu. As she opened the door to the bookstore, she couldn’t tell what she was more excited for: the soup or the look on Mitchell’s face when she offered it to him. Of course, the latter won. When Mitchell brought up Mrs. White and Kate asked what she was like, he went quiet. But Kate didn’t disrupt his silence; she liked it. There was no place to fit in or out of. He said that she was like her. Even without knowing Mrs. White, Kate felt like she and Mitchell could love each other in a way that only they could understand.

  Paula asked her to stay for dinner on the fifth Tuesday— Valentine’s Day. She’d wanted to decline but it sounded better than going to the mall again, the reminder of how alone she was. Upon arrival, Kate handed Mitchell a small chocolate box, noticing how his eyes stayed trained on the gift instead of her. Time never caught up to when Mitchell knocked on the door to tell them dinner was ready and Paula stood abruptly, leaving a red stain on her quilt. Kate ran to the local pharmacy, never feeling more out of place with her lack of a motherly touch. Yet, she’d grown to realize that being around Paula and Mitchell was like reading her favorite book for the first time again. So, she ran back to the house.

  The quilt was tucked in Mitchell’s hands when she left Paula’s room. They walked to the laundry room, and when they faced each other after washing the quilt, the space between them felt smaller. Mitchell asked why the drunk man last week told them they have the same eyes. It wasn’t true— Mitchell had green eyes, she had brown. But she knew what the man saw. He was fearful that she would leave but loved her anyway; she was fearful that he’d misplace her but desired him regardless. Kate remembered the word Paula used for him— reticent— but could only think of herself, which spurred her fingertips to caress his cheek. He pulled her closer, and Kate thought about how she would never leave his side as she leaned in with him.

~ ~ ~

   Five Tuesdays in Winter follows two complex individuals who have quietly chosen each other. The significance and irony of their relationship is how they were both reticent but we, the reader, only received one side of their story; we were only seeing Mitchell’s world sculpt around Kate. In the rewrite above, her character is translated from the specks we’re given of her through Mitchell’s point of view. Kate is subjective, yet we’re given just enough information about her that it becomes clear she shouldn’t be left in the reader’s peripheral. As Mitchell demonstrated, being reticent doesn’t mean untroubled. 

  Lily King’s collection carries the theme of only sharing one side of a love story. While she accomplishes making her reader ponder the romantic probabilities for each story, it leaves little room for discovering the unacknowledged character’s perspective. In Five Tuesdays in Winter, the surprise ending gnaws at the unsettled relationship between Kate and Mitchell, making it feel unfinished. But letting the reader know what Kate was going through and what she could have been thinking about strengthens their bond and puts their relationship on more solid ground, creating a well-rounded love story and breathing life into her love for Mitchell.

Interview With Professor Benjamin Warner

By Holden Schmale

Prof. Benjamin Warner is the author of two speculative fiction novels, Thirst and Fearless. A lecturer at Towson, Ben teaches creative fiction writing and creative nonfiction, among other courses. Recently Warner and fellow writer and former Loyola creative writing professor Ron Tanner decided to take on a new challenge: writing a craft guide. Titled Speculative Fiction: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology, the book is intended for college creative writing classrooms and will be released in summer 2024. I had the privilege of discussing this project with Ben, gaining insight into a process that has been unique even to an experienced author. 

This interview was conducted by Holden Schmale over a series of emails and has been edited for clarity and length.

Holden Schmale: What first led you to want to take on the challenge of making a craft book and stepping away from your niche in fiction writing?

Ben Warner: I know that when I was an undergraduate, I imagined my creative writing instructors went home from teaching their classes in Helen C. White Hall, and then wrote fiction until they fell asleep at 2 a.m. I didn’t understand just how much effort they were putting into preparing for the following class: reading student work, choosing stories to teach, thinking of ways those stories might be discussed, and creating writing exercises. There’s a lot to it, and it’s fun, and now I’ve been doing it myself for close to 20 years. So writing about that process—and hoping that it might offer other instructors and students some insight—feels both natural and rewarding.

HS: How has the writing process been compared to your regular process for fiction? Obviously, you’re reading other pieces and deciding what belongs in the book, but I had the pleasure of reading a preliminary chapter for class, and there is a great deal of writing you must do on top of choosing each piece.

BW: Yes, that’s true. This is less of a textbook than a craft guide, which is its own genre, I guess. Ron and I are putting a lot of effort into explaining concepts, annotating stories, working out exercises that build on themselves, and trying to help students see some of the ways that speculative fiction is built, one element at a time. As you know, there’s a lot that comes up in a creative writing classroom discussion that feels off-the-cuff or improvised—as students and instructor thinking out loud together. In writing this book, those ideas need to be fully and artfully articulated, so that they can be expressed clearly to our audience.

HS: What are you looking for in a piece you are going to include in your craft guide? I won’t use any specific names, in case it ultimately doesn’t end up being included, but the piece you showed me that you were considering was wacky and wonderful.

BW: Wacky and wonderful is a good start. First and foremost, Ron and I are readers, and we want to be moved by what we read. That can mean so many different things. The speculative fiction we’ve chosen to include is inventive, funny, character-driven, odd, unexpected, and comes from a diverse group of contemporary voices.

HS: What, if anything, are you going to take from this experience and apply to your own creative work?

BW: My teaching certainly impacts my creative work, and I think of this book project as an extension of my teaching. When I’m, say, 50 pages into a draft of a novel, I often stop to think: Is there a world here that my audience understands? Have I fully thought through the way that world works? Do I know these characters? Are there places where I’m falling into cliché? These sorts of self-checks come directly from my teaching, and now, hopefully, this book will help make them available to students in other classrooms.

HS: How has your creative writing benefited and/or suffered in the process of working concurrently on this craft guide? Do you find yourself just swamped with the writing load, or do you find yourself inspired from reading so much fiction at (presumably) a higher rate than usual?

BW: That’s a very astute question, Holden, because you’ve identified a problem I didn’t know existed when I started out. For so many writers I know, the hardest part of writing is making the time to write. I teach four courses each semester at TU, and I have a family who I have to make oatmeal and spaghetti for (those are separate meals… I don’t mix the spaghetti with the oatmeal), and so taking on a big project like this means I have less time for whatever narrative I’m working on. But you’re right, too, that reading a lot of contemporary speculative fiction has been inspiring and motivating, and though it might come to nothing, I have started working on a new novel at the same time as I’m working on this book.

HS: How do you find the right balance of borrowed work (short fiction pieces) and your own instruction and analysis within the craft guide? You are in a unique position writing a craft book for creative writing, as opposed to another discipline that may be less example heavy.

BW: We’re dividing the book up into two parts: a craft section in the front that talks about the nuts and bolts of writing a story and an anthology in the back. The examples we use in the craft section are often very short (anywhere from a page to five pages); these stories are small enough to take apart, like engineers cracking open the motor housing of a drill, so that we can ask: How does this thing work? In the anthology, we’re allowing for stories that demonstrate at greater length some of the lessons of character, setting, and conflict that we try to illuminate in the earlier chapters.

HS: What have you taken away from your experience writing about technique? Have you learned anything about yourself or  your own process? Do you see yourself changing anything about your technique after this experience?

BW: I think I’m always changing my technique. Like so many readers who write, I absorb the rhythms of other writers’ language, and those rhythms make their way into my writing. And when I read a story deeply, and break it apart line by line, examining each word choice with a spirit of discovery and admiration (as Ron and I do with the stories we’re using), that syntax and diction gets lodged in my brain. I can’t imagine that it doesn’t change the way I sit down to do my own work. Sometimes I write something that feels a bit too familiar—an expression or bit of dialogue—and I realize that it’s close to a line I know from another story. Those are moments that make me smile, because that bit of language has become an unconscious part of the way I see the world (though I always revise those lines).

HS: Take yourself back to when you hatched the idea to write this textbook. What did you hope to gain personally as a writer? How has reality compared to those expectations?

BW: I really wanted to help students in creative writing classrooms. When I first started writing in college, some syllabi stated explicitly: NO GENRE WRITING. I took that to be the law of the land, that is, what “serious” writers thought about speculative fiction vs. realistic fiction. But that’s not the case. In fact, most of the serious writers I know are great lovers of speculative storytelling. And yet, the fullness of that truth hadn’t made it into the classroom. It seemed like no [one] was willing to commit to the idea that genre writing is suitable for college students to read, write, and talk about. In part, that’s because no textbook about writing speculative fiction existed. So, we set out to write one.

HS: Could you see yourself writing another craft book? How has your experience been compared to the writing of a novel?

BW: I can’t imagine writing another craft book, but then again, I never imagined writing this one. I’m happiest when I’m working on a novel, and I think I’ll always be working on a novel. Even recently, as I was deep into working on this book, I felt a bit antsy that I wasn’t writing a novel (which is probably why I started writing on another novel).

HS: Last question—a broad one. When it is all said and done, what do you hope a reader of your textbook will take away from its content? Where do you expect its best uses to be? The college level? High school? Who do you see benefiting most from its content? A beginner or a more experienced writer?

BW: This is an easy one. We’re writing this book for any writer who wants to feel a bit more confident about writing a speculative story. I’ve met so many students who have told me that they’ve started a novel or a story but got stuck and stopped. Or they didn’t know “where to take it” after 100 pages. We hope that this craft book is a way to help students get un-stuck, or that it will inspire new directions for those who felt inspired enough to begin the imaginative journey in the first place. It’s a weird thing to be moved to make up problems for made up characters. But that’s what writers do. And that weirdness deserves to be helped along!


Benjamin Warner is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin and Cornell University’s MFA program. A lecturer at Towson University, he teaches courses in composition, environmental writing, and fiction writing. Ben is the adviser to the Towson University Urban Farm and Veg.

Holden Schmale is a junior at Towson University. He has published a short story titled ‘Acquaintances’ in Fairlight Books online portal. He currently serves as Fiction Editor on the Grub Street staff.


Small Press Highlight: Fallen Tree Press

By Marleigh Heffner

Fallen Tree Press is a Maryland publisher that focuses on poetry chapbooks. Terri Simon and Patti Ross, the editors of the press, formed Fallen Tree Press in 2022 following an avid conversation at a bookbinding class in 2017. Simon has written and published multiple chapbooks, including Ghosts of My Own Choosing (Flutter Press, 2017), and has appeared in a number of both online and print journals. Ross has a background in theatrical performance and journalism; she has recently begun sharing spoken-word poetry and published her first chapbook, entitled St. Paul Street Provocations (Yellow Arrow Publishing, 2021). Through Fallen Tree Press, Simon and Ross wish to publish a diverse selection of authors and aim to uplift the voices of the underprivileged; they also donate a percentage of their proceeds to charity. 

Fallen Tree Press has two published collections and are rapidly working on their third. Their first publication was an anthology that combined art and poetry. Portraits of Life: An Ekphrastic Anthology is a collection of art by April M. Rimpo and Elaine Weiner-Reed and poetry that has been inspired by their art. Mount Fuji, 36 Sonnets by Jay Hall Carpenter is the press’ second publication; it is based on the series of Japanese paintings 36 Views of Mount Fuji by Katsushika Hokusai. In this chapbook, Carpenter writes about nostalgia, love, and death using the form of Shakespearean sonnets. Both chapbooks can be found for sale on the press’ website.

Simon and Ross wish to help poets get their work noticed and out into the world; they continue to do so as they explore new submissions for Fallen Tree Press’ third chapbook, which can be expected this summer.

Grub Street Announced Gold Crown Awards Winner! Plus, A Q&A with Last Year’s Co-Editor-in-Chief

By Colin Lang

Grub Street has won another award! The Columbia Scholastic Press Association (CSPA) has announced that Volume 71 of Grub Street, which was published just last year, is a Gold Crown Awards winner. The Crown Awards honor the best student-produced publications, which are chosen by the CSPA’s judges. There were a total of 805 publications eligible for judging. Before becoming a Gold Crown Awards winner, Grub Street was one of several Crown Awards Finalists, which are chosen based on overall excellence. This excellence is determined by the quality of a publication’s design, concept, coverage, writing, and photography. This month, the CSPA held a ceremony announcing which publications were awarded Gold Crowns, while the rest of the Finalists won Silver Crowns. A wide variety of publications were Crown Awards Finalists with the most publications coming from high schools and many also coming from colleges. There is even a small amount of publications that come from middle schools. Towson University is not the only college from Maryland to be announced as a Gold Crown Awards winner. Mount St. Mary’s University, located in Emmitsburg, won a Gold Crown for their literary magazine, Lighted Corners


The CSPA was founded in 1925 and unites student editors and their faculty advisors to promote excellence in student journalism. The CSPA holds contests and awards publications to continually make student media better by setting the standard higher and higher. The student members of the CSPA come from all types of schools and colleges, which highlights its diversity of voices.

In light of Grub Street winning a Gold Crown, I reached out to Kourtney Douglas, who worked as one of the two Editors-in-Chief of Volume 71, with a few questions related to her time working on Grub Street.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.


Colin Lang: What was the most fulfilling part about completing and publishing Grub Street?

Kourtney Douglas: I think the most fulfilling part of working on Grub Street Volume 71 was becoming acquainted with some of the brilliant minds behind work we had become so familiar with. It really demonstrated to me how intimate of a privilege it is to be a part of someone’s writing journey and process. I am beyond humbled by the experience. I also got to work with some really awesome people who will surely go on to do some great work, in whatever field they end up in.


CL: What was the hardest part in the process of publishing Grub Street?


KD: I think the most difficult part was simply logistics. Thankfully, besides [on] a handful of works, Kelsey and I often agreed with our genre editors, and we all seemed to work well together. Most of the trouble came when outside life starting “life-ing”–a lot of it was asynchronous, and it did become difficult as the work increased. Most of us worked while being full-time students, some of us supported partners and families. For me, I’m a full-time caretaker of a school-aged relative, who had a lot of health challenges, and I also got COVID-19 during the revision process. I credit Jeannie Vanasco, our advisor last year, and Kelsey Franklin, my Co-Editor-in-Chief, with getting us to the end successfully.


CL: What advice would you give to future Grub Street editors?


KD: I could ramble for a long time about all that I learned, so let me try to get it into something you can use. I think my biggest advice is to learn all you can about the process. Ask possibly stupid questions, challenge norms and standards, and don’t shy from the idea of nuance and impossible complexity in the media you enjoy. You can be critical and still love something. You can personally dislike something while acknowledging its value and impact. Think deeply about the fact there are other humans on the other side of Submittable, sending in their work with trust in your ability to honor how vulnerable submitting is.


CL: How does it feel to have worked on an award-winning literary magazine?


KD: I forget what a big deal Grub Street is to many. I’m humble and thankful for the experience. If we made an amazing issue that never won a single award, I’d still be just as pleased. What is important to me is the growth and acknowledgement of the team and artists and getting the work to readers who want it.


CL: What knowledge from working on Grub Street do you take with you to this day?


KD: Grub Street was the first time I had worked on this large of a team for any kind of major project in years, so those skills: learning to be curious about others’ opinions and not judgmental, being open-minded, flexible and creative when it comes to logistics–those are things I still use everyday. I also learned or relearned so much about writing, about form, and about the process, both the internal and external, of publishing and writing. Also, I got to talk to one of my favorite poets, Hanif Abdurraqib, when Jeannie invited him to class, and I found so, so many great authors through the books assigned in class.

6 Questions with Whitney Ward Birenbaum, Cofounder of CHARM Lit Mag

This interview was conducted by Madisyn Parisi and has been edited for clarity and length.

CHARM Lit Mag is a project of CHARM: Voices of Baltimore Youth, a literary arts organization founded on the idea, according to the organization, that “kids’ voices matter.” The journal’s mission is  “to help young people develop as writers and create opportunities to amplify their voices through publication.”

The organization recently moved into a new work space in Baltimore.


MP: You’re one of CHARM’s cofounders. Can you tell me how this all started, where this idea came from, and how you went about it?

WWB: I was a middle school teacher for 13 years in Baltimore City schools, and around 2013, a group of teachers around the city, along with our students, got together and wanted to have this one-time, city-wide literary magazine that kids could submit to. We hoped it would grow, but we didn’t have intentions of that at that time, so in 2014, we published our first magazine. It had 44 pieces of writing and art from six schools. We had this great publication party, and we were just like, “Huh, this is really amazing.” So over time we started to publish a yearly anthology and also started to offer workshops for students in Baltimore. In 2018, I decided to make the leap into doing this for my full-time job. It’s just been such a joy. We still do that yearly anthology–that’s the core of what we do. We still have a student editorial board who produces all our publications, but we’re also growing our programming. It’s really in service of the mission: supporting young writers and amplifying their voices.

MP: So it’s been ten years? Wow. You were all hoping CHARM would grow, but was there anything that caught you off guard in this process?

WWB: Well, one thing is that we live in such a digital world, but the power of young people seeing CHARM in print and how transformative that can be. I remember the first year, talking to my own middle school students and saying, “You should submit your own writing. This is a really cool opportunity!” and they were like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah… ” and then the day that I brought the publication in, they were all like, “Why didn’t you tell us about this? This is so cool!” Seeing your own writing in print is just so empowering, and I love that. That’s still very much a core piece of who we are. Part of the lesson [we’ve learned] is that a lot of people don’t just submit on their own. It takes this personal relationship building of “I know this really great writer. I’m going to invite them. I’m going to encourage them to submit.”

MP: You mentioned the student editorial board. How student-run is all of this? How hands-on are you as a director? Are there times when you really step in?

WWB: I think I fall back on my experience as a teacher: How much of this is guided practice? How much of this is instructing by doing versus just letting students have at it, conceptualize, and create? We tend to fall more on the side of guided the first semester, and the second-semester students have a little more free rein. Part of that just works out nicely with the way the school year falls. We do a smaller project in the fall, then the annual anthology in the spring. But we also have students who have been with us for a long time, and that’s really nice because they take the lead. We have a student right now who is a senior at Baltimore City College (a high school), and she’s our publications team leader. She really leads and prepares the meetings, and sometimes I chime in, but once a student has been with CHARM for a couple years, they really know all there is to know about helping bring the publication to life.

Charm’s most recent publication, CHARM: Love

MP: Do you and the students see any trends in the submissions to the anthologies lately? I saw “This is Not a Snow Day,” which documented quarantine life, on the site, and I thought that was interesting.

WWB: That actually morphed into our first hardcover book. So we came out with a book called Unmasked, and the students coordinated that throughout the seasons of Covid. Spring 2020, Spring 2021. It’s such a great documentation of not only living through that time period, but being a young person during that time period. The summer of 2020 is filled with lots focused around Black Lives Matter and things motivated by the George Floyd killing and protests happening around the country, so you can really feel the progression of that year. Back to your question, we have noticed a lot of writing that deals with the current world and what it’s like to live in this time. Two years ago, there were definitely some students who were like, “We really want to make sure we’re focusing on joy and fun because everything is so heavy. We want to counteract that. It doesn’t all have to be Covid and negativity.” And those particular students felt strongly that it was important to also be highlighting joy, and I think that’s important.

MP: Speaking of the political times we’re in, where do you see CHARM Lit Mag fitting in as a Baltimore publication? Grub Street’s also a Baltimore publication, so we know people always have a lot to say about Baltimore. I think a few years ago [Baltimore] got called rodent-infested. So where do you see CHARM Lit Mag in that Baltimore identity?

WWB: So, I’m from North Carolina, and I’ve been here now for almost 20 years, since 2005, and I think there’s something about Baltimore that people who live here are very fiercely protective of the city and its reputation. That idea that there is this narrative of Baltimore that isn’t true needs to be subverted, and the people who live here really know all the amazing and incredible things that are happening here. And I feel that very much with our students. I don’t know if there are other cities or towns where people feel that way. I think it’s kind of a unique thing for Baltimore. A lot of the work we publish is–whether intentionally or just sort of imbued with things about Baltimore–about the city and its challenges but also its beauty. That’s in its writing. 

One other thought I have about that is that during the pandemic, some of our students wanted to create a journalism arm of CHARM. So we actually have, in addition to our literary publications, The Charm Report. We have some local journalists who support our students learning about reporting. That’s newer, but it follows that model of instruction and supporting them as learning to become reporters, but also having the students really own [it]. What are the topics that you care about, what do you want to write about, what story needs to be told?

MP: Going off of that, are there any upcoming opportunities at CHARM you want to talk about?

WWB: Yes! So we have an open call for submissions for students K-12 about chaos. That closes in March and will be out this spring. We are gearing up for our summer publishing internship which will place 20 teenagers at local publishing and media sites all around Baltimore. Last year, we had students at The Baltimore Banner and The Afro, several local bookstores, and Hopkins Press. We’re really excited to be bringing that back. We also just moved into our new space at Baltimore Unity Hall, and we’re co-located with a bunch of other community arts and education organizations like Arts Every Day, No Boundaries Coalition, Community Builders. Now that we’re here, we have so many more opportunities for volunteers and workshops.


To learn more about CHARM, visit charmlitmag.org, find the organization on social media via @charmlitmag. 

Interview with Professor Jeannie Vanasco

This interview was conducted by Matti Ben-Lev and has been edited for clarity and length.

Prof. Jeannie Vanasco was the Grub Street advisor for four years. I thought she could provide some valuable insights and stories from her time working on Grub Street.

MBL: What was your favorite thing about working on Grub Street?

JV: My favorite thing was also the hardest: advising an entirely new staff each year. I enjoyed seeing how the different personalities and aesthetic styles of each staff shaped each issue. Some of the staff would change halfway through the academic year, and that challenged me as an instructor and an adviser. I was trying to teach my students developmental editing, copy editing, proofreading, and the history of the literary magazine, all while helping them assemble an issue. Not to mention I’m a terrible copy editor.

 MBL: Yeah, I had no idea what I was doing or what copy editing actually meant when I walked into class on the first day. I was placed in the poetry group and given five poems, and I just started editing them as if I had written them, which I quickly learned is not the goal whatsoever. I have learned so much about copy editing in just a few weeks, namely, what copy editing is

JV: As a writer, I feel deeply embarrassed whenever copy editors come back with corrections—like, I should know this stuff! But different publications have different house styles. The New Yorker, for example, puts a dieresis, which armchair grammarians mistake for an umlaut, over the second vowel in words such as cooperate, and I don’t have the mental equipment to fuss over stuff like that. Commas, sure. But a diaresis? Advising Grub Street, when I knew I was lacking in an area of experience, such as copy editing or publicity, I brought in experts. I got my start in editorial at The Paris Review, TriQuarterly back when it was a print-only publication, and the Poetry Foundation, but that was in 2006. When I was an assistant editor at Lapham’s Quarterly in 2008, someone suggested hiring a social media person, and we all laughed. So in doing Grub Street, I needed to lean more on the expertise of those currently working in the field. And maybe that was the most rewarding part of Grub Street:

Photo courtesy of Towson University.

introducing students to professionals. Some students even went on to work or intern at Graywolf Press, The Believer, CLMP [Community of Literary Magazines and Presses], and Simon & Schuster. A lot of students went on to fully funded MFA programs where they edited those schools’ journals such as George Mason’s So to Speak. I often encounter students who reject themselves before they even get the chance to be rejected. Seeing my students gain confidence is exciting. One of the best parts of teaching is when my students realize, “This is something I can do.” 

MBL: What does Grub Street mean to you? 

JV: What does it mean to you? 

MBL: Well, I think walking in, I started to realize that there is a true sense of agency. That students’ decisions actually hold weight. I haven’t experienced that level of agency in a class before. 

JV: That’s a great way of putting it. Grub Street is meaningful to me when students find it meaningful. I enjoyed it, but it was a lot of work. I’m still recovering. 

MBL: Do you plan to advise Grub Street again?

JV: Prof. Downs will do it for three years, then Professor Harrison, then maybe me again. But if somebody else wants to take it, I won’t fight them. If TU considered Grub Street the equivalent of two courses rather than one each semester (for students and the adviser), I’d love to advise it again. But maybe I took it too seriously. I remember handing out Grub Street tote bags to everyone on staff, and then, after some of the students didn’t carry them, I said: “I’m not saying you have to carry the tote bag—” As I was speaking, I was annoying myself. But I wanted students to think of Grub Street as a close community. That was what made the staff change midyear so difficult. I didn’t want the second-semester students to feel left out.

MBL: How was the first semester different from the second? 

Volume 71 of Grub Street, the most recent volume Vanasco has advised.

JV: The semester assignments differed on a practical level. Because Grub Street is a print annual, I believe the staff needs to accept some writing and art before the spring semester starts. Otherwise, you’re scrambling on editorial when you should be focused on production. So I asked students to make a list of dream authors, and emerging writers whose work the students loved in an online lit mag, such as G*Mob and Muzzle. The students wrote short explanations of what excited them about the work, and then they invited some of those writers to submit. The students needed to be very strategic about how many authors they emailed. It’s not a good look to ask a writer for work—especially if you’re not with an established journal—only to then reject it. So the genre editors kept track of solicitations. Some amazing writing came out of that assignment. Because the students personalized their emails to writers, almost all the writers replied. Some gave us a soft no, as in: “If I can get something to you before the deadline, I will.” Most, however, gave us an enthusiastic yes: “Oh my gosh, I’m living out of my car right now, but I’ll send you a batch of poems in a month when I have access to my computer again.” Having worked at different lit mags in my twenties, I didn’t want to rely on the slush pile.

Sometimes you miss out on great work because not all writers feel confident enough to submit in the first place, or they haven’t heard of Grub Street. I never want to dismiss the slush pile. The slush pile is crucial to the life of literary magazines. I believe that literary magazines have a responsibility to at least try to discover new writers. The first semester also involved studying the history of American literary magazines and presenting on contemporary ones. I also asked students to research defunct literary magazines. Just because a magazine ends does not mean it failed. Everything has a lifespan. A literary magazine doesn’t have to exist for fifty-some years. Maybe it will exist for one issue, and that’s okay. Oh, and something else we talked about first semester: you are not going to love or even like everything we accept for the issue. But that’s what I love about literary magazines in general. They’re much humbler than, say, a Norton anthology. An anthology seems to say: “You must love this.” A lit mag seems to say: “Here’s a bunch of stuff we liked.” 


MBL: Yeah, personally I walked into Grub Street’s second semester and saw some poems (one in particular) and thought, “You really accepted these?” 

JV: I definitely get that. When my students loved something from the slush pile that I didn’t, I’d suggest they hold off until more submissions arrived. I tried to resist that urge, but sometimes I couldn’t—partly because we had only so much space in the print edition. I’d suggest they save that work in case another writer pulled their work after it’d been accepted. 

MBL: That actually happened in our class! Two poems were pulled by the writer, and we can’t replace them with other submissions because those writers have already been informed that their submissions didn’t make it in. 

JV: That’s stressful. When I interned at The Paris Review, the editors accepted a short story that would have been the writer’s first publication, but in the meantime the writer had already given the story to a very small lit mag in Texas. I say given because the Texas journal couldn’t pay, whereas The Paris Review would have paid hundreds of dollars. Maybe more than a thousand. After the Paris Review editors informed the writer of the acceptance, the writer apologized for the simultaneous submission. Everybody at The Paris Review felt deep respect for that writer. After all, a Paris Review publication for a debut writer can be life-changing. It can lead to an agent or a book deal. Plenty of other writers would have pulled their story from the Texas mag, but this writer didn’t. We all have to live under capitalism, so I get why well-meaning writers might pull work from journals that don’t pay. And I of course understand why writers often submit to many journals at once. A journal’s editors can take months and months to get back to you. Sometimes the editors never reply. But when you’re on the editorial side, you often forget what it’s like for the writers. 

MBL: I think many of us come at it from the same angle as applying to universities. You apply to a bunch, and you have your dream school, safety school, etc. Did working on Grub Street change your writing in any way? 

JV: I’m a slightly better copy editor. Then again, I’m not sure if it’s one word or two. I don’t know if copy editors have collectively decided.

MBL: Thanks so much for your time! 


Jeannie Vanasco is the author of the memoirs Things We Didn’t Talk About When I Was a Girl—which was named a ​New York Times Editors’ Choice and a best book of 2019 by TIME, Esquire, Kirkus, among others—and The Glass Eye, which Poets & Writers called one of the five best literary nonfiction debuts of 2017. Her third book, A Silent Treatment, is forthcoming. Her work can be found at https://www.jeannievanasco.com/ 

Born and raised in Sandusky, Ohio, she lives in Baltimore and is an associate professor of English at Towson University.