Interview with Editor: Russell Scott Valentino

11 mins read

Russell Scott Valentino is an editor, translator, and scholar based in Iowa City, Iowa. He has published eight books and numerous essays and short translations of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from Italian, Croatian, and Russian. He is the publisher of Autumn Hill Books and Editor-in-chief of The Iowa Review. He teaches in the University of Iowa’s Translation Workshop.

Natasha Stagg: Tell us more about The Iowa Review

Russell Scott Valentino: With 2011, The Iowa Review enters its 41st year of continuous publication. We select most of our content from the several thousand unsolicited manuscripts that arrive each year from across the country and abroad. We see our mission as nudging along American literature, being local but not provincial, experimental but not without respect for literary traditions. You may find writers already familiar to you in our pages, but you will surely also come across others who are not. Discovering a new voice, one not heard before but clear and compelling and ready to show us something just beyond what we’ve known and grown accustomed to—that still seems the magic of our work. Whether you’re mostly reading or mostly writing, we invite you to linger a bit in our pages, the print kind or the digital.

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

RSV: Grew up in Clovis, California; now live in Iowa City, Iowa.

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

RSV: We think of ourselves in the category of the “little bigs” or the “big littles,” which means the second tier of literary magazines after (generally) commercial enterprises such as The New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly. Peer lit mags are the various university-sponsored magazines (e.g., Missouri R, Georgia R, Kenyon R., etc.) and non-profits like A Public Space.

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

RSV: As we’re close to the really fine writing and residency programs of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program, and Iowa’s Translation Workshop, we get a lot of access to both American and international writers, and we have the means to make those writers available in English when their writing language might happen to be some other language of the world. I’d say this is something of a luxury that most other lit mags in the US aren’t able to match.

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?

RSV: I wouldn’t be engaged if I didn’t think they were more than a means to an end. They are often the first line of American publishing. They do a huge amount of the selection and honing of new writing, first by wading through the enormous quantities of unsolicited submissions they receive, then by working with their selected works to make them better, then by placing those works in their pages next to other emerging writers and also well-seasoned writers in provocative and careful combinations, thematic or not. This is largely unpaid work, the work of devotees. The lit mag world is a little like the theater world. It’s filled with people in love with the institution, the practice, the discussion.

NS: What kind of stuff does your journal publish?

RSV: Fiction, poetry, essays, interviews, occasional plays, occasional art works, and, in our online version, reviews, a blog, a human rights abuses index, and assorted odds and ends.

NS: So, how do we submit?

RSV: The Iowa Review is published in April, August, and December of each year. We look for the best writing available and are often pleased to introduce new writers. We also sponsor The Iowa Review Awards, an annual contest in our three main genres of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction.

Unsolicited manuscripts are welcome during the fall semester only—September, October, and November. Unsolicited work that arrives at any other time will be returned unread. Work without a SASE—even if the cover letter includes an e-mail address—will be recycled. We do not yet consider e-mail submissions.

Submissions should be addressed to the Fiction, Poetry, or Nonfiction Editor; please do not mix genres in a single envelope.

Simultaneous submissions are accepted, provided you contact us immediately if your work is accepted for publication elsewhere. With the exception of poetry and reviews, multiple submissions will not be considered. Please wait to hear from us before submitting additional work. We typically respond in one to four months.

TIR publishes short stories, flash fiction, graphic novels, self-contained novel excerpts, and plays. With the exception of graphic novels and plays, all fiction submissions must be double-spaced and single-sided.

TIR publishes poetry of all kinds, including verse plays and longer work. Please send up to five poems for consideration.

TIR publishes all manner of creative nonfiction, including personal essays, lyric essays, memoirs, and literary journalism.

TIR publishes reviews of book-length fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. Reviews should be between 750 and 1,000 words. Please address submissions to the genre of the work your review discusses.

TIR publishes translations of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. Translations should be submitted according to the guidelines of the original work’s genre and addressed to that genre’s editor. Translators should have permission from the copyright holder and should include a copy of the original work with their submission.

TIR publishes interviews with writers of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. Interviews should be no longer than 5,000 words. Please address submissions to the genre of the interviewed author.

The Iowa Review Awards
Entries for The Iowa Review Awards, given in fiction, poetry, and literary nonfiction, should arrive during the month of January. Outside judges name a winner and a runner-up in each genre. First prize is $1,000 and publication; second prize is $500 and publication. Any other finalist chosen for publication will be paid at our standard rate. Please consult the full contest rules posted yearly.

Samples and Subscriptions
Sample copies are $9, as are back issues when available. Subscriptions are $25 for one year, $45 for two, and $60 for three. Call our order department at (888) 400-4961 to charge your order to Visa or MasterCard, or send a check toThe Iowa Review, P.O. Box 0567, Selmer, TN 38375.

Publication and Payment
We purchase first North American serial rights, non-exclusive rights for any anthology generated by The Iowa Review, non-exclusive classroom copyrights, and, in some cases, non-exclusive electronic rights for our website. We pay $1.50 per line for poetry ($40 minimum) and $0.08 per word for prose ($100 minimum). We pay $50 per review, $200 per interview. Contributors also receive two free copies of the issue in which their work appears.

Address submissions to:
[Fiction, Poetry, or Nonfiction] Editor
The Iowa Review
308 EPB
University of Iowa
Iowa City, IA 52242

NS: Do you think literary journals are endangered?

RSV: To some extent, yes, like all print publications. They need to be constantly examining their business model. They don’t usually do this, staffed as they usually are by devotees (see above).

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

RSV: Not yet. We’ve enhanced our website, but we’ve also enhanced our print magazine. They serve two different, though overlapping audiences. We’ll be keeping both for a while yet at least.

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

RSV: In a sense, yes, those that are able to adapt to the new publishing environment with creativity and forethought. But there will always be new lit mags. It’s too vibrant an institution to vanish completely.

NS: What about book-publishing?

RSV: I think it’s the same. Distribution is enhanced immeasurably by e-publishing, but so is the need for publicity, building a community of readers.

NS: Had you heard of Sonora Review before this?

RSV: Yes. Received comp copies at AWP – an attractive magazine!