An interview with Lauren Bender
I recently had a chance to talk with Lauren Bender, our new editor-in-chief for Mud Season Review. As I get to know her more, I’m ever more sure the journal is in very good hands. Here’s what Lauren had to say about how she got involved with the BWW, how she started writing poetry, and how she sees the journal’s future taking shape.
You’re relatively new to Burlington and I remember meeting you at your first BWW event, The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016 launch party. You were so helpful and willing to jump right in and volunteer. Can you share with your fellow members a little bit about what drew you to Burlington in general and to volunteering with the BWW specifically?
I really fell in love with Burlington after my wife and I attended the Burlington Pride parade/festival for the first time in 2012. I grew up in a large city in Virginia but had spent the last several years living in a small town, which felt limiting to me after a while.
As soon as we knew we were going to move, I started scoping out the writing community, mostly through Facebook. One of the upcoming events I saw was the BWW Best of 2016 launch party. That led to me heading over to the BWW website and joining so that I could RSVP to that event, and then I saw the call for volunteers and thought that would be the perfect way to meet people.
You joined the staff of Mud Season Review shortly after joining the BWW. What drew you to the journal?
The Mud Season Review Vol 2 launch party happened about a week after the Best of 2016 launch party; that was another event I spotted on Facebook. There were also copies of MSR for sale at the Best of launch, and I was impressed by the design and the quality of work included. I remember immediately wanting to get involved and emailing Rebecca soon after that to ask about any volunteer opportunities.
Can you share some of your favorite pieces from the Mud Season archives?
I really love Lisa Beech Hartz’s art-focused poetry (Issue 19) and Aimee Nezhukhumatathil’s poem “The Smallest Commotion” from our Volume 2 print issue. Lori White’s nonfiction piece “Mapquest to Auntie Iryne’s” (Issue 17) is brilliant with form without any sacrifice to the quality of the writing. With fiction, I’m usually drawn to magical realism and strangeness, so one of my favorites is Jacob Guajardo’s “We Have Commandeered Our Bodies to Science” (Issue 14). And there are a few art pieces that I feel I could stare at for hours: Dr. Ernest Williamson III’s “Regardless of What You Face” (Issue 4) and Jessica Nissen’s “Red Storm” and “Purple Storm” from our Volume 1 print issue.
What about other literary journals out there; what are your top inspirations?
There are so many, but I’m most drawn to and inspired by journals that are consistently making efforts to publish and staff underrepresented voices (including journals that accomplish that goal by focusing on a specific underrepresented group): Nepantla, Vetch, The Offing, Apogee, The Deaf Poets Society, Split This Rock, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Rogue Agent, Winter Tangerine, and Thank You for Swallowing, to name a few.
You’re a poet with quite a number of impressive publications under your belt so far. Can you share some background on your journey to poetry?
I have been writing-obsessed for most of my life. I was six when I wrote my first poem, and after that I was hooked – apparently forever. I was in a creative writing program in high school and it was my major during college, but I think I’ve had the most fun with it since graduating – where now I’ll assign myself projects. One I worked on for four years; I went back to pretty much every poem I wrote in middle and high school (hundreds) and re-wrote them. It kept me from ever being blocked, because I had a jumping off point, even if the original poem was so terrible I could only keep one word or phrase from it.
It’s never easy to follow the founder of a journal, or any other endeavor, as I know well having followed Peter as the BWW’s second organizer. But I think it’s also exciting to get the opportunity to take something that’s started off so well and move it forward to the next level. How are you feeling about taking on this new role as editor-in-chief?
It is exciting, and I think motivated is the best term to describe how I’m feeling. I’m very focused on listening and learning at the moment, figuring out how all the different components fit together so I can make sure the process keeps running smoothly.
You served as a poetry reader for Mud Season Review for several months before becoming editor-in-chief. How has that experience as a reader informed your thinking about the journal and literary journals in general?
It was my first time reading for a journal using Submittable. I have used Submittable for my own submissions for a while, but I had not seen how it worked from the other side until MSR.
It instantly started changing how I saw the entire process. It demystifies it and makes you think more about how there are actual people that are giving a lot of consideration to your work before sending that acceptance or rejection. Plus it’s fascinating to get to see the wide range of what is being submitted and the many different ways people construct a cover letter and/or bio.
You were the co-editor of Green Mountain College’s literary journal, Reverie. Can you tell us a little about that experience and how it’s prepared you for the role of Mud Season Review editor-in-chief?
It gave me experience reading, selecting, and editing pieces. Reverie is print-only; it didn’t have an online presence (at the time – I see they have now created an impressive Facebook page!) and we weren’t using Submittable, so the process typically involved me and a few other people sitting in the library or in one of our dorm rooms, sifting through stacks of submissions, discussing, voting. We read blind, because it’s a small campus and we knew we would know most of the submitters personally.
What do you do for your “day job”? Can you share a little about your work and how it’s prepared you for the role?
I’m part of a large team that manages product data for the wholesaler/distributor Ferguson Enterprises. To give an example, if a manufacturer introduces a new dishwasher, I would load all the product data for it into our system (product description, price, weight, etc.) so it could be accessed, put on orders, stocked in our branches around the country.
It definitely has given me great organizational habits. Ferguson has a procedure and a rule for almost every situation and a particular place for every file or bit of data that needs to be saved.
What’s your vision for Mud Season Review as it continues on? I know the expanded team, with both existing and new members, has been meeting regularly and are feeling very energetic and inspired going into our third year of being out in the literary world. Can you share some of the thinking for the journal’s future?
Mud Season is already a wonderful publication that publishes strong work, and I want to strengthen what we are already doing rather than make significant changes to the vision.
One area that I think is very important to address (for any journal/press) is inclusion in publishing – making sure we are receiving and selecting writing/art from marginalized groups. This is not a new goal for MSR, but I am eager to expand our efforts to publish voices/visions that have been (and are still being) underrepresented. This would include encouraging members of marginalized groups to join our staff when there are openings (such as right now).
How about your vision for the MSR staff? As we work on expanding and deepening our learning and collaboration opportunities throughout the BWW, how do you see this coming to life more for our MSR volunteers?
I believe everyone involved is passionate about literature and making sure the best of it gets out into the world. Given that we’re all volunteers, I’ve been amazed by the effort and thoughtfulness I have seen people give to their tasks. I want to make sure that each individual’s opinion is heard and valued and that they are able to use their experiences with MSR to work towards their own personal goals.
We still have a few positions open on Mud Season Review if you’d like to join the growing staff. Check out available positions now >