To be a good writer, you must be a good reader.  Students in the graduate creative writing program (MFA) are putting that theory to the test with their new online literary magazine, Cooper Street, which launched its inaugural issue in May 2014.  This student-run journal began its development last fall, after the decision to shutter the print anthology Slush, which was comprised of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry written solely by students in the graduate creative writing program.  Greg Sullivan, the current editor of Cooper Street and a fiction writer slated to graduate in January 2015, led the charge in Cooper Street’s founding, and quickly found support among his fellow students. 

Though Cooper Street was a new endeavor, Sullivan and his colleagues were familiar with the work associated with producing a literary journal through StoryQuarterly, a literary journal housed at Rutgers University–Camden.  Students in the MFA program act as editors for StoryQuarterly, reading through the huge number of submissions, weighing the merits of each piece, and deciding whether or not they believe the work should be published in the journal.  Last semester, Paul Lisicky, Assistant Professor of Creative Writing and editor for StoryQuarterly, had students in his short story class judge entries for a short story contest the journal ran.  “The process of selecting stories for StoryQuarterly definitely informed our work [for Cooper Street],” Sullivan says. 

For the design of the online journal, Sullivan and his colleagues turned to Allan Espiritu, Associate Professor of Art, who was already in the midst of collaboration with the MFA program through a digital storytelling class he was teaching with MFA graduate director Lauren Grodstein, Associate Professor of Creative Writing.  The digital storytelling class was a model of interdisciplinary instruction, in which MFA students wrote children’s books, and undergraduate graphic design students illustrated the stories.  Cooper Street continued that spirit, and Espiritu recruited undergraduates Mike Choi (CCAS ’15), Tom Murtagh (CCAS ’16), and Sheena Yera (CCAS ’16) to conceptualize and produce the design of the site.

While the site was being designed, Sullivan and the other staff members of Cooper Street (Erin McCourt, associate editor; Nikki Feagin, fiction editor; Laura Bernstein (GSC ’14), poetry editor; Julie Chinitz, non-fiction editor; and Sarah Kennedy (GSC ’14), reviews editor, and others) began to spread the word about the journal and start a call for submissions, particularly promoting the opportunity with local universities.  Ultimately, their mission is to collect works focusing on labor, class, and city life from writers living in the Northeast corridor, but for their first issue they did not place any parameters on submissions, and ended up receiving 300 pieces, with the authors running the gamut from novices to established writers.  Sullivan and his staff whittled the submissions down to two non-fiction pieces, four poems, and five works of fiction, including a piece called “Glass House,” by Thaddeus Rutkowski, a fiction writer and professor from New York City.  Sullivan was pleased with the end product, noting that featuring outside writers added to the legitimacy and professionalism of the journal.

The next issue is slated to run in January 2015, and Cooper Street is now accepting poetry and fiction submissions.  Current plans for the upcoming issue include soliciting non-fiction “postcard pieces,” in which a writer ruminates about a scene in cities across the world, such as Montreal and Amsterdam.  In the meantime, the Cooper Street blog will be producing pieces by current creative writing students, which will range in content from comparative book reviews to issues facing the city of Camden. 

Written By Julie Roncinske