American graphic novelist Harvey Pekar is attributed with the quote, ‘ordinary life is pretty complex stuff.’ It’s a reference student and Senior Editor, Hannah Robinson includes in her introduction to this year’s edition of Writers magazine. While the student-edited publication from the University of Portland’s Department of English does indeed concern itself with the ordinary stuff of life — reflecting first loves, first jobs and the passage of time — there’s certainly nothing ordinary in the talent it showcases from the university’s writers, creative artists and photographers. And every year when a party is held to launch the latest issue, there’s nothing ordinary in where they choose to hold it, either.
The launch of Writers magazine annual edition used to be a migratory affair, held around the campus wherever there was space. That didn’t seem quite right for Erin Bright, Manager of the University of Portland Bookstore, and when one of the English Faculty members asked if she could host the publication’s launch party, she didn’t hesitate. “It’s become just a great night for us to help host an event, which really represents the compilation of everything the students have done throughout the year,” Bright says.
The store features a central fireplace meeting area and the bookstore team moves merchandise and sets out chairs to accommodate the celebration. “It’s a private event and we’re not open for business,” Bright explains, “but anyone is invited to come in and enjoy the readings and discussions.” It’s an environment that especially pleases Senior Editor Robinson, who points out that a major goal of Writers magazine is to foster interdisciplinary creativity. “Naturally, we get a lot of English majors who submit and participate in the magazine, but we also have biology majors, business majors, engineers, nurses, and more who choose to share their work with our campus,” she says. “Each year we have more students attend, and over the years, our launch party has become something that students and faculty alike look forward to,” she adds.
There’s a tradition of literacy on Portland’s campus, and Bright points to Brian Doyle, the award-winning author and producer of Portland Magazine, the in-house campus publication. Judging by this year’s issue, Writers magazine looks to continue that tradition. The 2014 edition is deliberately without theme in what Robinson describes as, “a mixed bag of images, prose and poetry,” and she was amazed by the extraordinary submissions she received. “This year, I was struck by the way our contributors took ordinary moments, and with a little creativity and no small measure of talent, made them incredible,” she says.
Robinson believes the annual event and its venue are integral to Writers magazine’s mission. “I see the annual launch party as an opportunity for us to celebrate the creativity of our amazing contributors. It gets campus excited about the magazine, and more importantly, it becomes a forum for creative minds to come together in a casual and supportive setting,” she says. “Having a launch party provides an opportunity to strengthen the creative community on campus and remind the general student body that their peers are capable of incredible things. It’s one of my favorite events of the year,” she adds.
To bookstore manager Bright, who willingly assumes the role of door manager for the event, it’s all part of the relationship she builds with her students and campus administration. With Barnes & Noble College bookstores being used for events around the country as varied as cooking demonstrations, rock concerts and fashion shows, the appropriateness of her venue hosting a literary event isn’t lost on her either. “The Writers launch has become part of the ongoing campus life here, and it’s become one of my favorite events, too,” she says. “I actually get the chance to sit back and let them shine.”