The birth, evolution and inspiration of the ‘Washington Square Review’
By Judy Ringstaff
From the very beginning, humans have been telling stories. Through song, plays, oral traditions, and even paintings on the walls of dark caves, we’ve left behind a legacy that the next generation can understand: stories.
Stories connect us. They inspire us. They empower us to dig deep within ourselves and find a strength that we didn’t know existed. We grow through stories. Stories are born in the heart of a writer, itching to be told, clawing to be let loose.
Lansing Community College’s creative writing department understands this need: the need for stories to be told, and has created an outlet: the Washington Square Review, a literary journal for LCC students, which was restarted in 2021 after a brief hiatus.
The Washington Square Review was founded in 1972 by a faculty member and English instructor, Donia Nolden. Nolden ran the Review for well over a decade, before it was taken over by Dennis Hinrichsen. Hinrichsen, who holds an MFA in Creative Writing, and who worked at LCC for 25 years, edited the journal for 10 years, before passing it on to Kaarie Waarala.
Because of budget cuts and the pandemic, the journal was suspended, but has been reborn under the leadership of creative writing professors Melissa Lucken, Susan-Serafin Jess and Rosalie Petrouske.
The Washington Square Review has evolved much since its early printings. In the beginning, Hinrichsen explains, the Review was only open for the creative writing classes. In other words, if you weren’t in a creative writing class, you couldn’t submit to the journal. The journal was run entirely by Nolden and her creative writing class.
“Everything in it,” Hinrichsen said, “came out of the creative writing program to showcase their work.”
The Review was only open to LCC’s creative writing students, and it was also much simpler than the format it is printed in today. “The early issues,” Hinrichsen said, “were 8 ½ by 11 spiral bound.”
There wasn’t enough budgeting for anything more, and, Hinrichsen said, laughing, “It was just really old school technology. They looked like they were mimeographed.”
By 1989, according to Hinrichsen, Nolden switched to a perfect bound format. Those were “300 pages full of poetry and fiction,” Hinrichsen said. When Hinrichsen took over, he was much more selective in his process.
If Nolden’s student submitted seven poems, all seven poems were featured in the journal. “I would just print one submission per student,” Hinrichsen said, explaining that “it allowed for a much broader scope.” The other reason Hinrichsen began limiting submissions was due to the opening of the journal to the whole school, instead of limiting submissions only from creative writing students.
The journal underwent several rocky years with budget cuts after Henrichsen’s retirement, and, the size of journal decreased yet again: 5 x 7, with 100 pages. The journal was now run by Waarala, who ran it until its brief hiatus.
The Review today
The journal has been in operation for 50 years. It has published thousands of pages of creative fiction, poetry and non-fiction content. Equally as important to the literary world is the behind-the-scenes experience for the creative writer.
Melissa Lucken, who has spearheaded the Review’s rebirth, explains the importance of the literary journal to the young creative writing student. Lucken, who holds an MFA in Creative Writing, began teaching at LCC as an adjunct professor before teaching developmental composition, and then, in 2015, she began teaching creative writing classes. Lucken began actively publishing her own works in 2007, although she published her first short story in 1991.
Lucken has made several changes to the journal, the most prominent being the opening of the journal to anyone, whether they are LCC student or alumni, a Lansing resident, or a young Grecian writer just starting to publish their work. Submissions are accepted from anyone. Lucken has also excluded her Creative Writing 2 class from submitting, in order to keep the accepted submissions bias-free.
However, the main reason for this decision is for her students to experience the back end of an editorial process, in an environment where they are truly able to step back and see what it is like to be an editor, without worrying whether or not their classmates will accept or decline their submission.
“It’s a professional opportunity that creative writing students can build from,” Lucken said. “I want them to know that they can have a career in creative writing.”
Some students find they enjoy copy-editing, and others, through the experience of reading submissions, realize what an editorial team would accept (and what they would NOT), and realize they can tailor their work to meet those expectations.
Hinrichsen agreed. “It’s a first chance to put together a package of work, get it ready for… publishing, and seeing it in print.” He further elaborated that the practicality of it is important for the young writer. “It’s all about understanding the entire process. Students write work, and then have no idea what happens.” The journal allows for a “guided tour where they are participating on both ends of the spectrum. Students get the whole experience, instead of teasing out a poem and giving it to your instructor.”
Even without all these benefits, the journal is still a great asset. “As a community college,” Lucken said, “it’s out mission to give access and places for everyone in the community: it’s an opportunity for them to have a voice.”
A voice. A place to start. A literary journal reflecting the thoughts and experiences of people from around the world, each story selected by LCC creative writers.
Partnership and Promotion
It is worth noting that even though submissions come from all across the world, and, according to Serafin-Jess, who plays a large role in the publishing of the journal, some are even translated from their original language. Still, the Washington Square Review is a reflection of LCC’s creative writing class.
“The students do the evaluations,” Lucken said. “The pieces that are selected reflect and embody the student population. Even though the work isn’t coming from only the students, the students are picking pieces that resonate with them, thus, the journal itself should reflect our students.”
The Review is also a wonderful opportunity for any promising creative writer, whether they are a student at LCC or not. The Review holds a virtual reading, where authors are invited to come and read their works. The recording is posted to the Washington Square Review’s website, and authors can request their clips, which, Lucken explained, “they can use to publicize themselves.” She further explained, “when authors participate in the journal, they’re getting more than just a publication … it’s a partnership.”
Where to Find the Washington Square Review
The distribution of the journal has changed. It is available in print, but it is also available digitally. “It’s an access thing,” Lucken said. “It’s important to provide high-quality literary material to all people at an affordable price.”
The Washington Square Review will be available digitally or in-print late this summer. To get your copy, look on Amazon.
Judy Ringstaff is a young journalist and creative writer. From a young age, she has been passionate about the written word, and is thrilled that as an adult she is able to continue writing. Through her works, she seeks to empower her readers to find strength in their flaws. You can find her creative work, Man of Blood, on Amazon’s Kindle Vella, and connect with her on Instagram.