Each semester, SUNY Geneseo produces Gandy Dancer, a student-run literary journal filled with fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and art from students across the 64-campus SUNY system.
Published in print and online versions, Gandy Dancer is not an extracurricular project, like many student publications. Rather, it’s the product of the Editing and Production Workshop—“a course much more like an internship,” according to Professor of English Rachel Hall.
“Editing and Production is the most hands-on class I’ve ever taken, including courses from undergrad and grad school,” says Lucia LoTempio ’15, a program manager at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, MN.
Guided by Hall and two managing editors each semester, students learn journal publishing from soup to nuts: reading submissions and selecting final works; working with authors on edits; designing pages, laying out the magazine, and proofreading final copy.
“Being able to see the intricate process of a developing project from start to finish has really helped me understand every facet of what it means to put a literary journal together,” says Amina Diakite ’22, an English major from Bronx, NY, and co-managing editor of the Spring 2022 issue.
Technical skills and teamwork
Students gain technical skills by working with programs such as Submittable, WordPress, and the Adobe Design Suite products InDesign and Photoshop. The skills stand them in good stead: “I would hazard a guess that having Gandy on my resume helped me get the internship that ultimately turned into a job a year later,” says Amy Elizabeth Bishop ’15, a literary agent at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret LLC in NYC.
The course includes grammar lessons (“We can’t put out a journal that’s littered with inconsistencies and grammatical mistakes,” says Hall) as well as an introduction to literary journals and how Gandy Dancer differs from magazines like Newsweek or Vogue (it’s mission-driven, not market-driven). But one critical lesson doesn’t show up on the Gandy Dancer syllabus: teamwork.
“Good art can’t happen without collaboration,” says Maria Pawlak ’22, an English and adolescence education major from Owego, NY, and this semester’s co-managing editor. “Even seemingly solo creative endeavors like writing need teamwork to thrive, whether that’s through soundboarding ideas, edits, or just plain old community.”
Learning to be an editor
Working on Gandy Dancer offers students hands-on experience, technical skills, and team collaboration. But it also teaches them how to act as an editor. Hall requires students to describe the merits of one piece over another without relying on imprecise phrases such as ‘I relate to it.’ “They don't have a lot of language for talking about strengths,” says Hall. “We’re always better at talking about weaknesses—people say a writing workshop is a fault-finding machine. It’s thrilling to hear students take possession of this new vocabulary.”
For students interested in working in publishing, holding other people’s work in your hands is imperative, says Bishop. “Not just for learning how to communicate both praise and constructive criticism effectively, but also for making tough decisions, honing in on what is working or not working about a piece (and why), and being compassionate about the truly terrifying process of submitting one’s work.”
Work chosen from the submission pile can go on to inspire or entertain other readers, says Rebecca Williamson ’21, an editorial intern with St. Martin’s Publishing Group/Macmillan. “Publishing is equally about the writer and reader. Gandy helped teach me that.”
Ultimately, says Gandy Dancer founding editor Suraj Uttamchandani ’14, PhD, “there is always room for more art, more writing, and more discussion about that art and writing.” Now a visiting research scientist at the Indiana University Center for Research on Learning and Technology, in Bloomington, IN, Uttamchandani still values the role Gandy Dancer plays in those discussions, “from people talking to their friends about what they might submit, to editors talking in class about what they might publish, to readers talking to their friends about what they've read.”