Exit 7: A New Literary Journal at WKCTC

Tammy Thompson
Innovation Showcase

Exit 7 off Interstate 24 in Paducah is significant to West Kentucky Community and Technical College (WKCTC) for more than being the path taken from the highway to get to the campus; it's also the clever name of the college's new literary journal that launched its inaugural issue last spring.

Exit 7: A Journal of Literature and Art is an annual collection of poetry, short stories, creative nonfiction, and artwork that features established and emerging writers and artists from around the country. "It's important for our students to have access to quality, professional work to read and edit," said WKCTC's Britton Shurley, creative writing instructor and Exit 7 faculty editor. Shurley and WKCTC students, who learn to be assistant editors for the journal, solicit work from more established writers and also review any unsolicited submissions the journal receives. 

Shurley wanted to ensure that the first edition, in particular, was filled with a high caliber of work. He sent solicitation emails to established authors whose work he was familiar with and whom he thought would resonate with the students being asked to read it. Once submissions were received, he made copies of the works for the student editors to review. After a week or two, the editors met to discuss which pieces they wanted to accept and which pieces they did not want to use in the journal. Current and former WKCTC students Alexis Jones, Tana Williamson, Matthew Curtis, Melanie Reason, Dennis Sharpe, and Emily Sutton were contributing editors for the inaugural edition.

"It just so happens that all of my editors have had some background coursework in literature or creative writing," said Shurley. The skills students learn in those courses serve as the backbone for the group's discussions when evaluating submissions; in each of those classes students must learn to analyze a work of literature and discuss it critically, stated Shurley. "When we sit and evaluate a submission, students can't simply say, 'I like it' or 'I don't like it.' They have to dig deeper and discuss why they liked it or why the story worked," Shurley said. He added that the students must talk about things like line breaks, the sound and rhythm of a line, the depth of a character, and the use of concrete details, all of which is something students should gain from the previously mentioned classes. "The process of making a literary journal just asks them to apply those skills and abilities in a very real world fashion."

Previously taking a literature or creative writing course, however, is not a requirement for student editors. The only real qualification Shurley is looking for in student editors is a love of literature and a willingness to discuss and debate it. "If someone has a genuine love of literature, I'm more than willing to throw them in the deep end of the pool and have them learn as we go," Shurley said.

David Atherton, 35, of Graves County, Kentucky, is one of the five new student editors for the next edition of Exit 7, and he is finally moving toward a life goal. He has wanted to be a writer and editor for over 20 years, but had to put aside his dream for a different kind of job. "I just let life slip away, but when I got to WKCTC I knew it wasn't too late," he said. 

Atherton completed Introduction to Literature, taught by English Coordinator and Exit 7 supporter, Kim Russell, last fall, and Shurley's creative writing class this spring. Courses like Shurley's and Russell's teach several of the concepts and techniques needed to be a good editor. "You don't always know at first why you like something, but you can use the literary skills you learn in class to critique other writers and try to choose the best work for the journal," said Atherton.

Tana Williamson of Princeton, KY, is bringing her editing experience back to Exit 7. She began with a creative writing course, and then took an independent study class with Shurley before graduating from WKCTC last December. She wanted to leave something behind for other students.

"I begged him [Shurley] to let me write a final paper so he could show other students how much I enjoyed his class. We learned to dig into all art forms and to really appreciate the creativity and hard work of visual and literary artists," said Williamson. She now works in the college's Matheson Library, and with David Atherton, Danielle Fairfield, Sylvia Hamlin, and Sarah Galloway, rounds out the Exit 7 team who are editing the second edition of the journal.

This issue is working a bit differently than the first issue--branching out to accept general submissions from anyone interested from August 1, 2012 to May 1, 2013. Shurley receives all submissions, then narrows down the stack into work he is comfortable and proud to put before the journal's readers. These pieces are sorted into packets and handed out to the student editors for discussion. The process then unfolds just as if the works were solicited. Shurley and the student editors gather to discuss the work and then contact writers whose works are chosen for the journal.

"I continue, for this issue, to solicit work from authors I admire, but I'm working to help student editors take on this responsibility for themselves as well," said Shurley. For future editions, he will encourage students to choose authors they admire, either online or through the library of other literary journals he has available. When the students find a writer that resonates with them, they are in charge of finding and reading other work by that author. The students will then bring samples of their chosen writer's work, showing the consistent quality and attributes they like, to discuss with Shurley. Once he gives the thumbs up, the solicitation process will begin.

According to Shurley, many people joined forces to create Exit 7 and it simply couldn't have been done without their talents and dedication to the project. WKCTC Graphics Design and Visual Communications Program Coordinator, Beverly Quimby, designed the layout for the inaugural issue. For the second issue, she is enlisting the help of her upper level students to assist in the layout process. The second issue is also going to enlist the help of students in the Paducah School of Fine Arts' Art Club to work on the visual art component of the journal. Each issue has an eight-page color portfolio featuring a visual artist. Art Club students will participate, with the help of Paducah School of Art Assistant Professor of Ceramics, John Hasegawa, in selecting the work to be featured in that portfolio. "This gives the students practical, hands-on experience and makes this a much more interesting multi-disciplinary project," Shurley said.

One of Shurley's future goals for this project is to turn the student editing experience into an actual three-credit class in literary editing. Colleges that produce literary journals, of either professional or student work, often have similar classes on the subject, basically because working to edit a journal aligns with a college's learning outcomes. "Many of our students have jobs or children in addition to maintaining their academic responsibilities. Because of their busy lives, many don't have the opportunity to participate in extra-curricular activities such as clubs. If students were able to take a literary editing class and receive credit that counts toward their degree, they might be more able to work it into their schedules," said Shurley.

Editing a literary journal asks students to practice and embody almost all of the goals they may hope to accomplish in higher education, Shurley said. By reading a wide variety of poetry and fiction from diverse authors, students are asked to see, and think about, the world from another's perspective. By analyzing these pieces and discussing which should be accepted for publication, students are practicing complex critical thinking skills, as well as learning how to communicate clearly and thoughtfully with others.

Aside from the learning that takes place while students discuss submissions, Shurley believes providing them with the opportunity to work on such a project is an important goal in itself. "Many of the literary journals of this caliber that are produced around the country are done so by either graduate students in creative writing programs or by small liberal arts colleges that are vastly more expensive than our community college. Involving undergraduate, community college students broadens the spectrum and scope of the literary landscape a bit further," Shurley said.

One of the main missions of WKCTC is to be the premier community college in the nation, and Shurley believes creating a literary journal of this quality and giving students the opportunity to participate in that process goes a long way to achieving that goal.

Atherton said the editors will continue to work hard to make upcoming editions as good as the first. "We have to do a great job with Exit 7," he said. "Not just for us, but for future students."

Copies of the first Exit 7 journal are currently available. Click here to find prices, subscription, and submission information.

For additional information about the journal, contact Britton Shurley, (270) 534-3242.

Tammy Thompson is the Public Relations Coordinator at West Kentucky Community and Technical College.

Opinions expressed in Innovation Showcase are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.