First, a history.
Bluestem began as Karamu in the English Department at Eastern Illinois University in 1966—53 years ago. Those first issues of the journal—self-described, then, as “A University-Centered Quarterly of Ideas and Artistic Expression”—are wonderfully 60s in their aesthetic: paper-bound, stapled together. Titles in bold Futura, long before the font became Wes Anderson’s calling card. This was a journal that literally looked to the future in the form of explications of the theories of Marshall McLuhan and musings on the effectiveness of teacher training alongside poetry and fiction.
In the journal’s inaugural issue, Humanities Editor Ray Schneider boldly declared the project to be “a cultural meeting place where scholars may speak and listen . . . a peripeteia among those who probe new problems, seek further dimensions.” But he did not predict its future as a nationally recognized literary journal that publishes the brightest new, emerging, and established literary voices. Bluestem authors have gone on to win the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize, the Iowa Short Fiction Award, Pushcart Prizes, and other accolades.
Schneider also declared the journal to be the domain of “men of perception and talent.” Here’s another future he didn’t—couldn’t—predict: Bluestem has largely been run by women of perception and talent for the past several decades, and continues to feature excellent work by women and female-identifying writers. The latest woman of perception and talent to helm the journal was Editor-in-Chief Olga Abella, who retired from EIU this year. Olga had a knack for finding, and publishing, impactful work by writers who were quietly creating beauty in their respective corners of the world.
The 2019-2020 school year marks a number of changes for Bluestem. In assuming the role of Editor-in-Chief, I follow in the footsteps of Olga Abella, Charlotte Pence, Lania Knight, Daiva Markelis, Roxane Gay, and the many other female editors and editors-in-chief who built the journal up over the past decades. We also welcome a new Poetry Editor to our team: Colleen Abel, who brings a wealth of experience and talent to her role.
In an age of social media, handheld devices, and instantaneous communication, Bluestem is also transforming. Beginning this year, we become a web-based journal that puts out three issues a year. This decision makes sense, both for our budget and for the way our readers prefer to read and share creative work. In going fully online, we are partnering with fine arts at Eastern Illinois University to create an immersive reading experience that is visually elegant and forward-thinking. We also look forward to dedicating more effort to the dissemination of our writers’ work across platforms, and opening up a number of possibilities for future projects.
One possibility we’ve decided to act upon immediately: during the 2019-2020 school year, Bluestem will test the waters as a paying market. We value the intellectual and artistic work our contributors do, and we want to show that in a tangible—and sustainable—way. That means everyone who publishes in Bluestem this year will receive payment for their work (more details soon!), and we hope to be able to pay contributors for years to come.
We relaunch in January, and submissions for the journal open September 10th. We look forward to reading your submissions, and hope you look forward to our return.
–Bess Winter, Editor-in-Chief