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Andrew Ervin
Before arriving at The Southern Review, Andrew Ervin earned his MFA in Fiction Writing from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and reviewed books for a variety of high-profile publications like the New York Times Book Review and the Washington Post.

Historic Southern Review Develops Innovative Resident Scholar Program

BATON ROUGE – When Jeanne Leiby was named editor of The Southern Review, she looked for ways to put her stamp on the 73-year-old journal.

She focused on ways to utilize technology and the Internet to deliver the journal to readers. She would like to encourage dialogue among authors and readers by including audio passages online. But the endeavor that she may be most excited about is the establishment of The Southern Review Resident Scholar Program.

“While there are many post-graduate fellowships available nationwide, this is the first one dedicated to editing, teaching and writing,” said Leiby, who established the program with funds previously set aside for a co-editor.

The program consists of two, two-year post-graduate fellowships for recent graduates of the nation’s best Master of Fine Arts and Ph.D. programs. The resident scholars provide 20 hours of editorial support to The Southern Review, including manuscript review, circulation development, fund-raising support and conference participation. They also teach one class per semester in the LSU English Department.

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The Southern Review publishes fiction, poetry, critical essays, interviews, book reviews, and excerpts from novels in progress, with emphasis on contemporary literature in the United States and abroad, and with special interest in southern culture and history.
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Andrew Ervin was chosen as the first resident scholar in August, and he will work with The Southern Review through the journal’s 75th anniversary in 2010.

“There aren’t many comparable programs that combine practical editing experience with writing time,” Ervin said. “It’s a revolutionary position; one I imagine other universities will soon copy.  So it’s exciting to be the first to, hopefully, set the bar high.”

Ervin comes to LSU from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he earned his MFA in fiction writing. He has served as the assistant fiction editor, assistant creative nonfiction editor and editorial assistant for Ninth Letter, guest editor for American Book Review, poetry reader for Spoon River Poetry Review and as a graduate assistant for Fiction Collective 2 and Dalkey Archive Press.

Ervin’s short stories have appeared in Fiction International, Oxford Magazine, Prague Literary Review, and the anthologies Chicago Noir and Mythtym, among other places. He has reviewed more than 200 books for publications such asThe Believer, New York Times Book Review, Washington Post and Miami Herald, to name just a few.

Even with his writing credits and experiences, working for The Southern Review was an opportunity that he couldn’t pass up.

“I feel like I’m participating in something far bigger than myself, in something far more important,” Ervin said. “It’s a profound joy to maintain the great reputation and amazing traditions of The Southern Review, but also to continue to make it as vital to our time as it was to Robert Penn Warren’s and Cleanth Brooks’ time.”

Prior to applying for the resident scholar program and visiting LSU, he already knew of the rich history published in the pages of The Southern Review.

“Everyone who loves literature understands the incredible history behind The Southern Review,” Ervin said. “Most of our nation’s most important writers have appeared in these pages at one time or another. There simply aren’t many magazines with this kind of pedigree.”

But he also learned that his perception of the journal wasn’t as accurate as he once thought.

“At one time, I thought of The Southern Review as being kind of stodgy and mired in the past,” he said. “When the resident scholar position opened up, I went into the library stacks at the University of Illinois and read a lot of issues, old and recent. What I found surprised me. The quality of the writing was never in doubt, but I discovered a lot more diversity – voices, aesthetics – than I ever anticipated.”

“The entire history of American letters, in its many glories and its many contradictions, can be found in the back issues of The Southern Review,” he added.

Ervin visited campus last summer to do three interviews for the resident scholar program. He had never visited LSU before, but he knew right away that LSU was the place for him.

“Before moving to Baton Rouge I knew two things about LSU:  a great football tradition and one of the best literary magazines in the nation,” Ervin said. “No other school could allow me to indulge my two biggest passions – sports and literature! So I recognized right away that this school would be a great fit for me. I can’t wait for baseball season.”

Besides football and The Southern Review, Ervin has loved experiencing the rest of LSU’s campus.

“The beauty of the campus came as a surprise – the groundskeepers may be the least-appreciated talents we have here. They do a miraculous job. And there’s nothing greater than riding my bike along the lakes every day,” he said.

“The Old President’s House is an amazing place to come to work. Not only do I have the best job in the world – helping to loosen some of our most impressive, contemporary literature – but it’s in a beautiful, historic building,” he added.

Another thing that surprised Ervin on his first visit to Baton Rouge was the weather. From the humidity in southern Louisiana to the landfall of Hurricane Gustav, weather has made his first semester at LSU an interesting one.

Ervin grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs and has lived in Eastern Europe and downstate Illinois, so dealing with a major hurricane was a new experience for him.

“I’ll never forget those nights when the power was out, and all the neighbors would drift outside. It was the perfect way to get to know everyone. I have the most incredible neighbors,” he said. “I was living alone at the time, my wife was a visiting professor at Illinois State University then, and the next-door neighbors treated me like family. They let me run an extension cord into their generator, then when my wife came to visit for a weekend, she carried a tiny, window A/C unit on the plane. That made a huge difference in adjusting to the weather down here.” 

Since arriving on campus, he spends his days in the Old President’s House reading manuscripts and editing texts received for publication. He also teaches a fiction course in the English Department. He recently learned that his first book, Extraordinary Renditions: 3 Novellas, will be published by Red Hen Press in September 2009.

“There’s never a dull moment. I spend my days immersed in great literature and talking about it with some brilliant people,” Ervin said.

The second resident scholar position was advertised this fall and the next scholar will join Ervin, Leiby and the rest of The Southern Review staff in the Old President’s House in August 2009.

Ernie Ballard | Editor | Communications & University Relations
Spring 2009