On Nov. 17, beginning at 4 p.m., Avant held their semi-annual “Hell Night.” On its face, it looks like a normal club meeting– a handful of people dotted across a classroom (200, Victoria), snacks and drinks in the corner that go untouched for a long while, refreshments entirely implied. This betrays the nature of what occurs here: a literary gauntlet, roughly seven hours of curating submissions for the upcoming issue.
Avant features the exact type of people you would expect to run a college literary magazine. Everyone looks very bookish. Glasses, neutral fall tones, pens, and notebooks strewn about haphazardly. Kelsey Pederson, a senior writing arts major, takes charge, standing at the front of the room, opening an 83-page document titled “HELL NIGHT HATH ARRIVED” on the projector. Sometimes they’ve had manuscripts over a hundred pages long, and any given time they do this, there’s a real danger they won’t finish.
They read each individual submission out loud and voted on it after a brief discussion. All submissions and votes are anonymous. One of the earlier pieces is titled “Aquarium Astronomy,” which gets accepted after five minutes of critique and praise. They pay particular attention to the line “the ocean is space and the stars swim.”
“In poetry, it’s always nice if you can make someone go, ‘Well, I guess you can have this,” said Pederson, providing insight into the process of analyzing a piece. Avant is mostly geared towards poetry, but they also accept short stories, art, and photographs. They deconstruct them with very writerly phrases; “delicate whimsy,” “psychic distance,” and “gold-encrusted poem.”
At times, an obsessive nature leaks through. The third submission was a poem titled “An Ode to Roadkill,” which featured the line “I think about that instead of your wry neck.” There was a significant discussion over the use of the word “wry” in that sentence. It was fruitful, as this poem was eventually accepted.
Of course, not everything does. They don’t treat these as rejections, but rather “resubmits.” An “untitled goose poem,” as it was jokingly referred to, is the first submission to meet this fate.
The existence of an event called “Hell Night” implies poor time management. Thankfully, this is not the case, as clarified by sophomore Writing Arts major Adam Buckley.
“Every Wednesday, we have a meeting where we do this. We have a ‘Hell Night’ because, in a two-hour meeting, you might not get to everything, so that rolls over into the next week, and then sometimes that will roll over into the next week,” Buckley said, highlighting the snowball effect. “When there is a deadline on the last day [for submissions], there is a biblical flood. That’s why we do this. There’s more submissions on the last two days than the rest of the semester.”
The said deadline was on Nov. 15, but the actual publishing deadline is still unknown.
“That depends on how much has to get done that semester,” Pederson said when asked when this would be. “We publish an issue of everything that was accepted, but it usually takes about a [whole other] semester for that to be printed. There’s copy editing that has to happen, and then we have to correspond with the writers and get the edits approved. Then we put a manuscript together, and send it to the printer, and that process takes a few weeks.”
It’s a very quiet, serious affair, but the group also knows how to have fun. They take frequent breaks during the meeting, where Buckley pulls up his “worst songs ever” Spotify playlist, and an accompanying bracket, used to determine which of these songs are truly the worst. The first matchup is Paul Mcartney’s “Temporary Secretary” vs. Imagine Dragons’ “Thunder,” two absolute musical failures. “Temporary Secretary” wins, and they promptly get back to the task at hand.
It’s a lot of work, but it seems to be gratifying to the individual members.
“I love being able to critique pieces for the magazine while submitting my own work,” said sophomore writing arts major Samantha Szumloz, when asked what drew her to Avant. “I also believe in exposing myself to criticism is humbling and healthy for me as a young writer. I also get a sense of community out of the organization, which I am so grateful for as a college student.”
You can follow @rowanavant on Instagram, to keep up with submission guidelines, meeting dates, and publications.
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