April 23, 2020
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Each year, the Kenyon Review selects a crew of “associates,” students to help read hundreds of unsolicited manuscripts for possible inclusion in the world-renowned literary journal. This year, the magazine recruited 62 associates, up from 50 last year. In addition, the Review hired 13 student interns, who are paid to do the same work in addition to managing social media, festivals and writing programs.
“We ended up with a bigger group than last year, partly because we had a record number of returning associates,” said Tory Weber ’02, associate director of programs at the Review. “We had well over 100 new applications.”
The associate position is coveted among students. Many who aren’t selected the first year apply again, and some work as associates all four years at Kenyon.
Sarah Bence ’15, an English major from Okemos, Mich., is one of the students who has been with the program since her first year at Kenyon, continuing as an associate even while she studied abroad her junior year. She was introduced to the Review through Young Writers, a summer workshop for high-school students who value writing.
“The Kenyon Review is definitely, for me, a safe space at Kenyon for that love of literature,” Bence said.
Each associate is assigned eight manuscripts from the “slush pile” of unsolicited works to read for the magazine each week. The submissions are read by two associates who decide if it should go to magazine editors for further review.
“The way I look at it, if you need someone else to see it, you need to share it,” said Justin Brooks ’18, an undeclared major from Spring Lake, N.J. “That’s what basis I go on. If it gives me a visceral reaction, I want someone else to read it, too.”
The Review staff works closely with the associates to make sure they know what they’re looking for in submissions. “We spend a lot of time training our students about how to read. They are Kenyon students, so they’re already smart. I feel confident in their abilities,” said Weber, who was an associate when she was a student.
The opportunity for students to express their thoughts on the works is an important part of the process as well. “I think everyone on the staff is really encouraging of allowing you to state your opinion,” said Elizabeth Friedman ’16, an English major from Pittsburgh. “If you don’t believe in a piece, then that’s OK. Maybe someone else really does and maybe it will go on, and that’s awesome for the author.”
The vast majority of manuscripts ultimately are turned down. “I don’t say yes very often,” Bence said about the pieces she reads. “I say yes if something is really phenomenal. In four years, I’ve still never had anything that I’ve read get published. It’s incredibly competitive.”
The associate program is about more than reading manuscripts. It’s also about building a community. The students are encouraged to read the manuscripts together in the basement of Finn House, which is set up as a cozy reading nook. In addition, the Review hosts a weekly seminar for associates, inviting fellows and staff members to talk about the writing and publishing process and bringing in authors as guest speakers. During the Literary Festival, the associates had opportunities to meet privately with best-selling author Ann Patchett, the festival’s keynote speaker and winner of the magazine’s literary achievement award.
“I feel like, even before we graduate, it gives us a great opportunity to get a taste of what publishing would be like in the real world and to see how one of the best literary magazines in the country is run behind the scenes,” Friedman said.
Associates also relish the idea of meeting other students who love literature, even though not all of them are English majors. “It’s just a bunch of people who are really interested in reading other people’s creative work, and there’s definitely a sort of community with it,” Bence said. “That’s one thing I really love about being an associate. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience.”