The Fall 2021 Issue

  • Emily Stowe: Managing Editor
  • Rachel Morgan: Editor
  • Brooke Wonders: Editor
  • Sarah Pauls: Art Director

Shifting History, Redefining Progress

In the basement of Bartlett Hall on the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) campus, four women are meeting in person for the first time in a long time. It’s early June of 2021, before the resurgence of Covid-19, the Delta variant has passed, but Omicron will follow. They are excited to be together to plan the Fall 2021 issue of the North American Review (NAR), America’s oldest literary magazine, housed at UNI. 

To say that the issue is going to be historic is an understatement. The magazine is over 200 years old, living a varied and colorful life—featuring the writing of a dozen presidents, from John Adams to Franklin Roosevelt, famous poets like Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg, and canonical authors like Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, and John Steinbeck. One thing it has never done though, is feature a production team comprised entirely of women.

Managing Editor, Emily Stowe, snaps a selfie of the team. It consists of Stowe, two editors, Rachel Morgan and Brooke Wonders, and playing a supporting role, myself, Sarah Pauls as Art Director. The moment feels light, with talk of posting the image on social media, yet also deeply important, as the team recognizes the photo as a mark of history being made. 

“Editing for the North American Review is both an intimidating and exciting task,” says Morgan. “When the magazine was founded in 1815 in Boston, its mission was to provide America a literary venue to produce work that would rival Britain's literary traditions. However, women and people of color were left out of the conversation for hundreds of years, so producing this particular issue is a type of invitation toward restorative publishing and risk taking.”

Stowe says she’s proud to be part of the team making history, and finds it amazing to go from days of exclusion, to this issue, which features female contest judges and prize winners, as well as a diverse slate of contributors — not simply by gender, but also by race, nationality, sexual orientation, age and socioeconomic status. She notes that all the artists in the issue are new contributors to the North American Review. The art in each issue is a big focus of Stowe’s as she does the initial selecting of each piece. She notes that it’s a great way to put her art degree from UNI to use. 

The past inability of editors to recognize the diversity in America and fight for representation and inclusion in the pages of the magazine is frequently on the minds of the current editorial team. In 2019, they embarked on a rebranding project to take the trajectory of the magazine in a new direction, one that recognizes the need for a wide range of voices to be heard. 

“The guiding themes that inform the decisions by our current editorial team are: open, eclectic and restorative,” Stowe shares. “We know that historically, the magazine was not inclusive, and we strive to accurately represent our current culture by celebrating diverse voices today.”

Outside of the day-to-day work of reading submissions, hosting readings, selecting art, and meeting deadlines, being housed at UNI allows for the magazine’s production work to serve as a practicum space for students wanting to learn about the literary publishing world. 

“In Fall 2021, Rachel and I co-taught the practicum and the experiences and training we were able to offer students in that class came directly out of our work together on the Fall 2021 issue,” said Wonders.

Morgan adds, “I’m thrilled we’re bringing students, through the practicum, into literary publishing, passing the torch so to speak, and exploring new digital spaces for publishing.”

The cover art for this particular issue, created by long-time cover editor, Gary Kelley, is stunning. Four muses reach behind and in front of one another, overlapping in blues, golds and pale chartreuse. Of course it's embodying the overture of the issue, women blending into one another, light on their feet. Their hands hold pencils—poised for work, even while they dance. Moving from face to face, one can appreciate the woman on the far right who looks into the distance—forward, to the turning page, and into the future.

Each editor shared excitement for the issue and for how their role in its making will shape NAR’s pages for years to come.

“Certainly, we carry the magazine’s heavy history, but this is an opportunity to evolve and even provoke new work,” says Morgan. “Our current team of editors has diverse aesthetics, welcomes difficult conversations, and takes the ethics of publishing seriously.” 

“I hope to continue foregrounding women, nonbinary writers, and writers of color,” said Wonders. She’s especially excited to promote these voices in nonfiction, as she believes that the power of personal narrative can change hearts and minds about difficult subjects. 

Now finished and long since mailed, Fall 2021 issues of the NAR are scattered across America. They grace coffee tables and shelves, serving as quiet reminders of history, progress, and the beauty these women have made together. Hopefully, though, there is an issue somewhere, dingy from handling, dog-eared and creased, tucked under the arm of another young woman who sees her own future in its pages.