Interview with Editor: Beth Staples

9 mins read

Beth Staples received her MFA in fiction from Arizona State University in 2007, and joined the Piper Center for Creative Writing staff as Managing Editor after graduation. She runs the Center’s three publications–Hayden’s Ferry Review, Marginalia and Word of Mouth-and its internship program. She also teaches fiction writing at ASU and Mesa Community College. Her work has appeared in The Portland Review and Phoebe, and she is working slowly and with much suffering on a novel.

Natasha Stagg: Tell us about Hayden’s Ferry Review.

Beth Staples: HFR showcases the voices of emerging and established talents in creative writing and visual art from the national and international community. Because our editorship changes annually and involves the cooperation of two editors per genre, HFR is not tied down to particular styles, schools of thought, aesthetics, or ideologies. Additionally, editors often choose to explore particular topics in special sections.

We believe the artistic and cultural conversations between the work of established and emerging artists figure prominently in the future of written and visual art, and we are enthusiastic about identifying and supporting artists whose work we feel is of significant cultural merit.

NS: Where are you from, and where do you live now?

BS: ME personally? I’m from Philadelphia and now live in Phoenix. HFR is in Tempe, Arizona and has always been in Tempe (which used to be called Hayden’s Ferry).

NS: How does your magazine fit into the world of publishing today?

BS: Wow. You’re not beating around the bush, are you? I suppose the way we fit in is the way many other literary journals fit it. We’re identifying the work of writers and visual artists whose work we believe in, and giving that work a wider audience through our print issues, blog and website. We’re giving confidence and support to writers who might not otherwise find it. We’re creating a community of support for writers and writing on ASU’s campus and in the Phoenix metro area (in conjunction with The Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing). We’re supporting graduate and undergraduate students in the craft of writing and the study of editing. We’re delighting in the written word. We’re creating conversations. We’re helping – hopefully – to keep print culture alive. We’re supporting the publication of global literature in the American market by publishing translated work. We’re trying to marry serious literature with a sense of joy and community through social networking. I could probably go on like this, but maybe this is enough?

NS: Does it do anything that no one else is doing?

BS: Well, we’re publishing work that no one else is publishing. That’s the key, right? But I suppose our commitment to social media is unusual for “similar” literary journals. Our connection to The Piper Center – its readings, programs, classes, etc. – is unusual. Our commitment to publishing art in conversation with writing is also pretty rare.

NS: How do you feel about literary journals in general: simply a necessary means to an end, or something more worthwhile than even anthologies these days?

BS: I wouldn’t spend so much time committed to this journal if I only felt it was a means to an end. What end, I wonder? I think it’s incredibly worthwhile. I think journals support writers and writing that can be more risky (subject-wise, formally, etc) than some book publishers are willing to take on. I think journals curate art objects that capture a unique and specific place and time by putting writers and artists together. I think journals supported by universities can take unusual risks by not worrying (so much) about the bottom line. I hope that continues.

NS: What kind of stuff does HFR publish?

BS: The familiar list: stories, novel excerpts, poems, translations, essays, art. We’re hard to categorize, and we like that. You can see some sample work

NS: So, how do we submit?

BS: We only accept online submissions; we have no reading fee; we read all year long; submission guidelines are available here:

NS: Do you think literary journals are endangered?

BS: No. I think the literary journal/publishing marketplace as we know it is changing. I think maybe print publications are endangered. But I don’t think reading or writing or readers are endangered, so there will always be quality journals to introduce writers to readers and readers to writers. I’m excited about some of the opportunities digital media provide to make journals more sustainable, innovative and interactive.

NS: Is becoming “online only” something to be worried about?

BS: I’m thinking about its possible inevitability (how do you like that word pairing?). I think for a journal like HFR that takes its print quality and its artsy side very seriously, we need to figure out ways to argue for the necessity of our being in print, and we also need to find ways to take advantage of digital media to stay relevant/competitive and, you know, alive. I don’t see those iterations as being mutually exclusive.

NS: Will only the fittest survive, and could this be a good thing?

BS: By “fittest” you mean “makes the most money”? We’re in America, and I guess that’s how things go sometimes. I don’t think I can say whether it’s good or bad or right or wrong. I don’t think things necessary can be categorized that way. I  think some journals I like might go away, and journals I don’t feel great about will get started. I think people move toward what’s easy and gimmicky sometimes, and that makes things look “fit” for a moment, and then not. I think artists aren’t always the best fundraisers, and that’s problematic for many institutions, journals, etc. I think the arts deserve support from the government and from large institutions. I wish that people who wanted to be writers also supported other writers and loved to read. I wish people that submitted to literary journals also subscribed to them. I wish people thought more beyond their own immediate gain. I wish American culture better supported creativity. Etc Etc. I don’t know if I’m answering your question, but it feels kind of unanswerable to me.

NS: What about book-publishing?

BS: Oh dear, what about it? I would say whatever I’ve said about journals also applies to books. I think large publishers have created an untenable situation, and will have to rethink how they make/market/distribute/sell books. I think small publishers are becoming increasingly important, interesting and innovative. I love books. I will continue to read them. Right now I’m reading them on paper. If that changed, I would still happily read books.

NS: Had you heard of Sonora Review before this?

BS: Yes, of course!