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New Editor Looks to Take The Southern Review into the Future

A few months ago, Jeanne Leiby was not thinking about job opportunities other than the one she already had. She was teaching creative writing at the University of Central Florida, where she also edited The Florida Review, and had been awarded sabbatical for the spring semester.

She was looking forward to her upcoming free time and thinking about how she would spend it. But all that changed when she assisted one of her graduate students with a job search. She found a posting for the editor’s position at The Southern Review at LSU, and it was an opportunity she could not pass up.

“When I got the call asking me to come for a campus interview, I was thrilled … and surprised,” Leiby said. “The interview was a wonderful experience. It was early June, and I decided to drive rather than fly from Orlando to Baton Rouge. 

“Everything about LSU’s campus, Baton Rouge, the people I met, felt right to me.  Folks seemed excited about the ideas I have for The Southern Review, and I’m excited to be part of such a great literary history,” she added. 

The Southern Review is rich in literary history. Tracing its roots back to 1935, when it was founded by Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Penn Warren and American literary critic Cleanth Brooks, the journal was in search of its first new editor since Bret Lott took over in 2004. Lott left to continue his writing career and to teach at the College of Charleston.

“Bret has done great things for The Southern Review. His redesign is smart, beautiful and complete. I hope I do him proud,” said Leiby, who became the first female editor in the journal’s 73 year history.

Lott brought unique changes to the journal, including adding visual elements, and in 2006, it won first place for Best Journal Design in the Council of Editors of Learned Journals, or CELJ, International Awards Competition. Leiby hopes to continue this success and add fresh ideas as well.

The Southern Review’s history speaks for itself; it’s been a journal instrumental in shaping literary history from its inception in 1935,” Leiby said. “One of my main goals with it is to both keep that history alive, but also to consider the needs of a new and changing readership.”

One of the ways she hopes to meet those needs is through The Southern Review’s Web site www.lsu.edu/thesouthernreview. She is looking for ways to incorporate online methods, such as blogs, that encourage dialogue between authors and readers and also include a section for teachers who might want to use the journal in their classrooms. An idea that she is eager to utilize is including audio of writers reading passages from their works on the site.

Another endeavor Leiby is excited about is the establishment of The Southern Review Resident Scholar Program. The program consists of two, two-year post-graduate fellowships for recent graduates of the nation’s best MFA and PhD programs. The resident scholars will provide 20 hours of editorial support to The Southern Review, including manuscript review, circulation development, fund raising support, and conference participation. They will also teach one class per semester in the LSU English Department. 

“While there are many post-graduate fellowships available nationwide, this will be the first one dedicated to editing, teaching and writing,” Leiby said.

Leiby grew up in area known as Downriver Detroit. She graduated from the University of Michigan, earned her master’s degree from the Bread Loaf School of English/Middlebury College, and her MFA degree from the University of Alabama.

Her stories have appeared in Fiction, New Orleans Review, Greensboro Review, Indiana Review, among other magazines. Her collection of short stories Downriver, winner of the Doris Bakwin Prize from Carolina Wren Press, was published in fall 2007.

Leiby said that she discovered her passion for editing when she was in graduate school at the University of Alabama. She was the fiction editor for Black Warrior Review, a journal completely run by graduate students. Many of her colleagues there have gone on to important editorial positions at some of the country’s best literary journals, including New Orleans Review, Gettysburg Review, Georgia Review, and Idaho Review. She, however, now becomes the envy of her former classmates as editor of one of the oldest literary journals in the country.

The Southern Review is, and always has been, one of the most influential literary journals in the country, publishing the very best emerging and established voices. This is how I think the journal is perceived by writers,” Leiby said. “More importantly, however, I believe this is how The Southern Review is viewed by readers.

“There is a myth − a wrong-minded one, I think − that literary journals exist to serve the needs of a small audience of writers who only want to see their work in print.  This may be true to some extent. But high-quality journals like The Southern Review − and fine independent presses − serve a much greater purpose. It’s our job to provide the best work possible for a wide range of readers,” she added.

Having only been in the editor’s position for a few short weeks, Leiby is already looking toward the future. The 2009-10 school year will not only feature LSU’s 150th anniversary celebration, but will also mark the 75th anniversary of The Southern Review. Leiby and her staff are already discussing ways to celebrate this milestone event and the new directions the journal can take in the future.

“It’s exhilarating. I’ve only been here a few weeks, and I absolutely love this job,” she said.

Meanwhile, Leiby is hard at work on collecting submissions for the summer 2008 issue of The Southern Review, which will be her first as editor, along with teaching a course through the LSU English Department.

“When I was offered this job, I was given the choice to teach or not teach. I wouldn’t take a job where I couldn’t teach,” she said. “I love teaching, and I’m a better writer and editor when I spend time in the classroom.”

From teaching young writers to making selections for upcoming issues of The Southern Review to incorporating ways that the journal can better utilize the technologies of today, Leiby has one main goal in mind.

“I do know that The Southern Review is known to be one of the best journals in the nation, and I’ll do everything I can to keep it that way,” she said.

She looks to be on the right track to do just that.

Ernie Ballard | LSU Office of Public Affairs
Spring 2008

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