From Africa to appetites, new publications gear up for press

The number of regular student publications on campus will more than double – from three to seven – next month, if plans for a slew of new magazines come to fruition. The total number could jump to eight by September. The five new publications would join the Record, The Literary Review and Monkeys With Typewriters, in an increasingly vibrant undergraduate publishing scene.

Unlike the established publications, which cover a wide range of subjects, the new publications will be thematic. Gusto! will be devoted to food, The Horn to Africa and Telos to Christian discourse. Also unlike existing publications, which are entirely student-written, the new ones will also be accepting submissions from faculty. The Horn, for example, plans to publish an article on agriculture in Africa by Wilberforce Kisamba-Mugerwa, a visiting professor of international studies from Uganda, in its inaugural issue, which is due out next week. By including professors, editors hope to expand the discussion their publications produce on campus. It also means more writers, and more high-quality articles.

Although the magazines have different subjects, they share the challenge of gathering submissions, editing and printing – not to mention keeping the magazine going for years to come. “We’re having difficulty getting articles for our first publication, primarily because people haven’t heard of us,” said Rob Smith ’10, who with Charlotte Kiechel ’12, will co-edit Red, White and Purple, a student political journal, when it debuts in September. Other editors, like Donald Molosi ’09 of The Horn, said they’re receiving more submissions than they can print.

Funding is another perennial challenge, as publications are not eligible for funds from the publications subcommittee until their third year of operation. Editors said, however, that they’ve had no trouble finding alternative sources. “College Council was very excited and willing to approve us for funding,” Smith said. Telos’ editor-in-chief Virginia Cumberbatch ’10 explained that her magazine has received funding from an organization called the Day Foundation, which proposed the publication in the first place (having helped to establish similar journals at the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, Harvard and the University of Massachusetts), and will advise Telos’ editors. Gusto! will be getting around the costs of conventional publication, and saving a few trees in the process, by publishing only in electronic form, as a combination online magazine and blog.

Despite the challenges, editors say enthusiasm has been high. Thammika “Prim” Songkaeo ’11 and Katerina Belkin ’11, the co-editors of Gusto!, say that 11 people showed up to the first meeting of the magazine, while another nine expressed interest – not a small number considering the magazine’s niche and the time of year. Songkaeo and Belkin attributed the energy in the room to some peculiar quality characteristic of food lovers. “I just remember thinking that if we were a beverage right now, some athlete could drink us and run for five days,” Songkaeo said.

The reality, though, is that many new clubs, not just publications, peter out within a year or two. Gusto! is Belkin’s second effort at a food club, coming in the wake of the vegetarian club, which she and a few others inherited from Carynne McIver ’08.

At the same time, Belkin and Songkaeo are not consumed by how long the magazine will survive. Longevity, for them, is just one mark of success – a sentiment the other editors seemed to echo. The purpose of the publications was often summed up in one of the great clichés of our time, “starting the conversation.” Telos, according to its constitution, seeks to be a “nuanced and faithful conduit of the Christian message,” to remind us that we at Williams are here not just “‘E liberalitate E. Williams,’ through the generosity of Ephraim Williams, but ‘E liberalitate Dei,’ through the generosity of God.” Telos is the Greek word for purpose, which refers to the sense of purpose and meaning that permeates the Christian life, which Telos hopes to present.

The Horn is part of a larger campaign to bring attention to a revived Williams African Student Organization (WASO), and to be “a gateway to learning about Africa.” The horn in the magazine’s title is a symbol of music and communication across Africa. Molosi said that he hopes the magazine will “provide insight into how we Africans perceive ourselves because a lot of the time we are being perceived, looked at and not into.”
The biggest problem for Molosi and editors of The Horn is how to represent the world’s second largest continent, which contains 54 countries. “We concluded that the best we can do is tell what we know and leave what we do not to dialogue that the magazine will generate,” he said. The editors of Telos reached a similar conclusion about Christianity. Their goal is to inspire readers to ask their own questions, rather than to “cover” Christianity. The editors of Gusto! also hope to split their time between Songkaeo’s passion – food history and anthropology (did you know Louis XIV had pheasant for almost every meal?) – and Belkin’s – nutrition and psychology – while leaving plenty of space for recipes and anything else food-related, including poetry. Songkaeo said she was inspired by Gastronomica, whose editor-in-chief is Darra Goldstein, a professor of Russian at the College.

Another publication appearing on campus for the first time this year is The Clovehitch, an undergraduate academic journal, which has not published since last spring after all but one of its editorial staff graduated. Editor-in-chief Jeff Kaplan ’09 says he received 70 submissions and plans to publish eight. The Clovehitch will hit newsstands within the first two weeks of May.

The boom in publications also shows how important it is that college funds for student publications be protected in the midst of the current economic climate and ongoing budget cuts. Having sufficient funds allocated to student publications allows students to focus on writing and editing, rather than fundraising. There are few signs of a vibrant intellectual life more indicative than a magazine stand full of diverse publications. Hopefully the College will recognize the high cost-to-benefit ratio of these publications and look elsewhere to save a few bucks.