Stage fright dissipates and imaginative juices flow during the spoken word gatherings that take place at the Writing Center in D. Vickers Hall. In room 210, students from different areas of study come together to recite, perform and showcase original creations before fellow poets, short story writers, artists and photographers. The opportunity to unleash imagination and share works with their peers is just one facet that The Manchac Review, the creative writing journal of Southeastern Louisiana University’s English department, provides.
For almost 60 years, Manchac has served as an outlet for Southeastern students to gain recognition for their writing. Up until 2010, the journal went by the title of “Gambit.” However, according to former editor-in-chief Kim Calhoun, the name change to “The Manchac Review” catapulted the journal into the college realm and strayed away from what resembled a high school publication.
Toting a new title, Manchac underwent a design makeover that contrasted from its traditional look of yellowy pages and line drawing on its cover, a theme the journal had remained faithful to since its debut in 1960. According to Dr. Alison Pelegrin, the faculty advisor for Manchac, the new name was just the beginning of changes for the publication.
“We wanted to have a more online presence and to also do a redesign that students could participate in,” Pelegrin explained. “That is why we decided to kind of re-brand the journal.”
Historically, Manchac has published creative writing, such as traditional poetry and fiction. Today, the journal has broadened its horizons to recognize other artistic endeavors, such as flash fiction, prose poems, play manuscripts, photography, videography and art. Whatever does not fit in the physical copy of the journal is posted to the website, The Manchac Review Online.
The launch of the website was another monumental change for the publication. As Calhoun recalled, students in the class of Dr. Joel Fredell, the professor and undergraduate coordinator of the English department, took on the task of developing Manchac’s online existence. In the spring 2017 semester, the students designed the journal’s website using HTML coding and uploaded videos and other content. The final product includes information about the journal’s history, its staff and the digital versions of its latest issues. It also provides an avenue for students to submit their work for possible publication.
“I think it looks pretty good,” Calhoun said. “It’s just a way to pull it all together and definitely kind of showcase issues [of Manchac] people tend to look for.”
The nearly six-decade reign of Manchac at Southeastern has not been without its challenges. In fact, one hardship the journal has faced is the lack of submissions. Over the course of the school year, Manchac receives approximately 40 to 50 submissions. The staff hopes to produce one publication of the journal per semester, but this mission proves difficult if there are not enough pieces to fulfill the binds of the book.
“There are a lot of creative writers on campus, but for whatever reason, they are reluctant to submit work,” Pelegrin noted. “And of course, the more submissions you have to choose from, the better journal you’re going to have in the end, right?”
To overcome the stalemate in publication and trigger greater student interest, the journal’s staff began to host Manchac Live. At this event, which most recently took place on Halloween night, students can sign up to recite their poetry, for example, or share their non-spoken word pieces within a creative atmosphere. As the journal’s current editor-in-chief Samantha Reine noticed, the open mic program invites participants across different majors for an opportunity to present their art in all its capacities.
“The funny thing is most of the students that come to Manchac Live aren’t English students,” Reine said. “A lot of people don’t realize that they’re poets and that they’re writers. A lot of people don’t explore that part of themselves.”
The recent success of the Manchac Live propelled the publication to turn over a new leaf. To remedy the lack of student awareness, the Manchac staff handed out thousands of flyers promoting the journal’s submission processes and open mic sessions. The staff also recruited prospective contributors at creative places on campus, such as the art studio and music hall. With their new promotional efforts, the Manchac crew hope that event participation will equal more submissions.
“I think the significance of [Manchac] is for the students to explore that part of themselves, as well as have a way to get out there,” Reine added.
Throughout the years of appearance transformations and publication standstills, Manchac has maintained the same mission: showcase the creative writing of Southeastern students. Whether it is the way their eyes light up while they recite their poetry in front of an audience, as Reine described, or seeing their names plastered in the table of contents of the journal itself, the recognition that Manchac rewards to its published authors cannot be understated.
“It has always been a dream of mine to publicize my poems and I’m happy I took advantage of this opportunity,” said Knyla Houston, a senior kinesiology major whose poem saw acknowledgement in the latest issue of Manchac. “I hope I can influence others to share their talents and leave their unique work wherever they go!”
Members of the Southeastern community are not the only ones who have noticed the creative pieces in Manchac. In fact, according to Calhoun, representatives from other publications have contacted the contributors of the journal’s most recent issue and expressed interest in exploring more publication opportunities.
Nonetheless, the publication holds a special place in the English department and for those who choose to contribute. For 2016 Southeastern graduate Keirre Talbert, having two of his poems showcased in Manchac simultaneously was more recognition than he expected when he decided to submit his work to the journal.
“Being published gave me validation. It meant that I could use poetry to express my thoughts and opinions,” Talbert said. “Since this human experience is a shared one, it’s comforting to know that I can contribute to that exchange.”
The Manchac Review accepts submissions for publication year-round. All work submitted must be completed in its entirety. For more information, visit www.english.selu.edu/manchac-review.