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The Southern Review Celebrates 75 Years of Literary Excellence

Looks forward to merger with LSU Press, which also celebrated its 75 anniversary in 2010


Founders of The Southern Review
Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks

"On a bright Sunday afternoon in late February, 1935, the president of Louisiana State University drove up to the door of Robert Penn Warren's residence on the outskirts of Baton Rouge and asked him, his wife and a guest, Albert Erskine, to go for a drive. While the official black Cadillac crunched the gravel of the back roads, President James Monroe Smith revealed the motive of his invitation. Was it possible, he wanted to know, to have a good literary and critical quarterly at the university? Yes, was the answer he got – yes, if you paid a fair rate for contributions, gave writers decent company between the covers, and concentrated editorial authority sufficiently for the magazine to have its own distinctive character and quality. There was one more stipulation: that quality must not be diluted or contravened by the interference of academic committees or officials." – as written by Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren in the introduction to "An Anthology of Stories from The Southern Review," published by LSU Press in 1953.

Legend has it, Smith suggested that Erskine and Warren confer with Brooks, then a member of the university English department, and Charles Pipkin, dean of the Graduate School, and prepare the proposal. If it came in the next day, he would sign off on the project.

That night, the four got together and drew up a plan for a quarterly, and the next day Smith kept his word and signed the authorization.

With that humble, overnight start, one of the premiere collegiate literary journals was born, and this year The Southern Review celebrated its 75th anniversary.

"Since 1935, The Southern Review has delivered into the hands of readers over 8,000 poems, stories, essays, reviews and interviews by and about the world's most compelling established and emerging writers," said Jeanne Leiby, editor of The Southern Review.

Over the years, The Southern Review has changed, but Brooks and Warren's original mission for the journal hasn't.

"The very original articulations of what The Southern Review would be have stayed absolutely solid since 1935," Leiby said.

While LSU was celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2010, The Southern Review joined in celebrating that achievement and its own 75th anniversary in many ways.

The 75th anniversary year started with the launch of the winter 2010 issue, featuring a cover painting by Edward Pramuk, LSU School of Art retired professor emeritus.

"It's probably the most beautiful cover we've ever done," Leiby said.

A launch event was held at the Shaw Center for the Arts in downtown Baton Rouge, where Pramuk and authors Ava Leavell Haymon and Andrew Ervin, the first Southern Review Resident Scholar, spoke about their work.

The year's biggest celebration took place at the Associated Writing Program's annual conference, held in April in Denver. The conference is attended by more than 8,000 writers, and The Southern Review was one of the featured readings for the event.

Along with a readers' party, The Southern Review also held a launch event for the fall 2010 issue at the Acadiana Center for the Arts in Lafayette, La. The idea behind holding the event in Lafayette was to show how The Southern Review serves the entire state of Louisiana and not just LSU or Baton Rouge.

In addition to the four issues of the journal published in 2010, another highlight of the 75th anniversary year was "The Best of LSU Fiction," which The Southern Review published in April.

"Best of LSU Fiction" is a one-of-a-kind collection of 20 stories written by LSU teachers, students and editors. From Pulitzer Prize-winner Robert Penn Warren to Olympia Vernon, LSU MFA graduate, acclaimed novelist and winner of the Ernest Gaines Award for Literary Excellence, this vital anthology includes original author biographies that trace the establishment of LSU's prestigious literary tradition. Contained within are stories, some never before published, by LSU notables James Wilcox, Andrei Codrescu, Walker Percy, Moira Crone, David Madden, John Ed Bradley, Tim Parrish, Rebecca Wells and many more.


The Southern Review Editor Jeanne Leiby

Since Leiby arrived at LSU three years ago, she has been looking for ways to meet the needs of new and changing readership. Some of the avenues that The Southern Review is actively involved now include utilizing social media outlets and blogging.

"When, not long ago, I set up The Southern Review's Twitter account, I did wonder what the great Brooks and Warren would think about the reduction of ideas to 140 characters. Or Facebook updates. Or blogs. Or e-mails," Leiby said. "While these things may have changed some of the basic ways we do business, The Southern Review has remained committed to its artistic and intellectual mission."

The Southern Review's blog, http://www.thesouthernreviewblog.org/, is called The Southern Review Lagniappe. To start off, staff members have been posting for readers and writers to better get to know them.

One of the more popular aspects of the blog is the "Rogue's Gallery," which features photos sent in by authors and readers of themselves with The Southern Review or Southern Review memorabilia in unique settings. These include soldiers in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, who Leiby sent issues to after one of the Army majors contacted her to see if she had any back issues she could provide to help fill the soldiers' down time.

Over the years, The Southern Review has felt its share of ups and downs. In 1942, publication of the journal was suspended due to the war and the national economic crisis. It wasn't published again until 1965, when editors Lewis P. Simpson and Donald E. Stanford started the second series of The Southern Review.

The Southern Review is once again faced with a difficult situation with the university's current budget crisis. As The Southern Review is not an academic unit, it has been hit harder during the university's budget cuts.

"The Southern Review did sustain a budget cut this year, as did many important cultural institutions, but because of the enthusiastic and sustained support of LSU's administration and their commitment to literary excellence, we will continue to engage our audience with the best work available," Leiby said.

One of the ways that The Southern Review will be able to continue to engage their audience and new audiences in the future is an upcoming merger with LSU Press, who also celebrated their 75th anniversary this year.

Leiby has been working with MaryKatherine Callaway, LSU Press director, on how they envision a merged LSU Press and The Southern Review to look.

"We're actually excited – out of the ashes comes the phoenix," Leiby said. "Budget cuts are bad, nobody wants to do any of the things we are doing, but both of us have this attitude that we could actually be poised to build something really new and different here, a publishing institute, a real center for all kinds of publishing endeavors that could make LSU incredibly unique, especially in the region."

Callaway agreed and feels that the merger of units will be beneficial to both The Southern Review and LSU Press in the long run.

"Jeanne and I are both very excited about the possibilities offered by having LSU Press and The Southern Review work together more closely," Callaway said. "We know that we'll both benefit from sharing our knowledge and experience, and we'll create a whole that is stronger than its parts."

While many of the details and logistics are still being worked out for the July 1 merger, Leiby and Callaway have already held numerous conversations about what the future holds for their areas.

"This budget crisis will not last forever, so, on the other side of them, let's really have something new and different, and that's exciting," Leiby said.

Readers and fans of The Southern Review can help out in new and different ways as well. For those who would like to donate money, The Southern Review has set up an online donation area, including a $75 for the 75th campaign, on the journal's website, http://www.lsu.edu/thesouthernreview. In addition to donating money, there are a number of other ways people can give back to both The Southern Review and the community.

"Buy a subscription for a soldier or support your local library, buy them a subscription to the Southern Review," Leiby said. "We need people to support The Southern Review, and they should feel good."

LSU Press 75th Anniversary

While The Southern Review was celebrating its 75th anniversary year, its new partner, LSU Press, was also celebrating its own founding 75 years ago on campus.

We had a wonderful opportunity this year to highlight our 75 years of continuous publishing," Callaway said. "If you visit our homepage, you can see a timeline of significant milestones in the press's history, as well as 75 great books in the categories of literature, poetry, history, reference and Louisiana – and 75 prize winning books. From a list of over 2,000 titles, it was a challenge to select just 75 for each of these categories!"

As part of the anniversary year, LSU Press joined with Hill Memorial Library to host a symposium on 30 years of translations of "A Confederacy of Dunces." Published by LSU Press in 1980, the legendary novel of New Orleans by John Kennedy Toole won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction the next year. The event, held in April, offered an opportunity to see and discuss many of the covers used in the foreign editions of this iconic novel and to hear about how such a regionally specific book is translated for another culture.

A highlight of the year including publishing "Treasures of LSU," a book that celebrates LSU's sesquicentennial and showcases many of the artworks, artifacts and other riches found on campus.

"We were not only proud to be part of that book, we are delighted to have worked on the project. It was years in the making, and Laura Lindsay, Gresdna Doty and Marchita Mauck – all LSU professors – did an outstanding job," Callaway said.

LSU Press also participated in LSU Day in November and offered a year-long 35 percent discount, since the press was founded in 1935, to customers who placed orders on their website.

"All of these efforts were low cost ways to focus on our anniversary year, and we are lucky to have a creative and energetic staff to envision such ideas and implement them," Callaway said.