Literary Event

October 2, 2009 at 11:32 am (education, Writing)

Attended a literary event for one of my grad school classes. It was pretty interesting and very informative so I thought I’d post my review here.

Literary Event Review

Speaker, Jeanne Leiby, editor of the Southern Review

The first presentation of the NKU Honors Program Distinguished Speakers Series welcomed Jeanne Leiby, editor of the Southern Reiew, to give a talk entitled: “Straight-Shooting from the Top: Editing Literary Works in the Post-Feminist World and Bottom-Line Economy.”

Summary: Ms. Leiby gave a charismatic and informative talk that began with her background and wound its way naturally to the specifics of her job as editor of the Southern Review. She read a short selection from one of her own fiction pieces that gave a fictionalized account of her school years in Detroit and then moved on to describe her winding career path and the importance of a mentor in leading her to where she is – and who she is – today. The descriptions she gave about the realities of current editing and publication included the editorial and selection process current at the Southern Review, explanations on what editors are looking for in writing, and pitfalls – including plagiarism and inaccurate content – for the writer to avoid.

Reaction: I found this talk both very encouraging and – paradoxically – disheartening. On the discouraging side, Ms. Leiby pulled no punches in her description of the current state of fiction publication in America. It is driven not by quality writing as much as by market trends and, of course, profit. Publishers are interested in what sells  – right now! – and often engage in sloppy or nonexistent fact-checking on the manuscripts they approve for publication. She also described the overwhelming amount of competition in the fiction market, citing the 17,000 submissions that the Southern Review receives every year and the paltry 1-2% that are actually accepted. Her own short story, the one she read an excerpt from, was rejected over 60 times before finally being accepted and published.

However, it was not all doom-and-gloom. Especially if one applies a optimistic spin – one that would make the White House proud – to Ms. Leiby’s information and personal story.

For example: Her piece, a quality piece and worthy of publication, was rejected multiple times before someone finally saw its value. Translation: Just because a story I’ve submitted has been rejected by a few journals doesn’t mean its not good or won’t be accepted somewhere down the line. Press on! Keep trying!

Another example: Ms. Leiby has worked at a variety of jobs – including that of a horse groomer – and taken a rather winding road to get where she is today. Translation: Being a good writer, a successful writer, takes time and experience. You can’t expect immediate success. Press on! Keep trying!

One more: The fiction marketplace is filled with successful writers who plagiarize and use sloppy – or nonexistent – research in their work. Translation: I don’t plagiarize and can do great research. I can compete with these guys. I just need to press on! Keep trying!

You get the idea.

Aside from these rather emotional reactions, I found the practical information that she shared helpful as well. I didn’t know how important fact checking could be for a literary journal. Nor did I know much of the behind-the-scenes work that goes on at a literary publication.

Conclusion: This was a great night that combined good information with entertaining speaking and I’m very glad to have been in attendance. Bravo to the Honors Department and to Ms. Leiby for this beneficial event.



  1. Ken Southworth said,

    Wow Ryan, I was not sure how you would make this an interesting post. I mean for the “out sider” that is “ignorant” regarding the inside workings of publishing literature; well….The first presentation of the NKU Honors Program Distinguished Speakers Series welcomed Jeanne Leiby, editor of the Southern Reiew, to give a talk entitled: “Straight-Shooting from the Top: Editing Literary Works in the Post-Feminist World and Bottom-Line Economy.”…does not sound like a riviting read! You made me enjoy it with your “positive spin” that was genuinely very insightful! Good job!

    • slowlyascending said,

      Thanks dad, glad it was successful:-) Hopefully, it was much more interesting than some of the other stuff I have to read. One of my big upcoming assignments is writing a book review of a book entitled: Silicon Literacies: Communication, Innovation and Education in the Electronic Age. It was a beneficial book, but not exactly a page turner.

  2. Jan Southworth said,

    Ryan, I think of Grandpa’s name for you —– flying Ryan and it fits. I read this all the way through and I am so proud of your writing abilities and your determination. This is what it takes!!! Keep on keeping on and never give up!!!!! It all takes time but nothing worth while is fast you know. Keep it coming. I know there is a great future for you.

  3. Jeanne Leiby said,

    I think that your review of my comments are much more articulate than my comments. I was very impressed by NKU, its landscape and its culture. It was an honor to be invited.

    All best,


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