Interview with Former Greensboro Review Poetry Editor Allison Seay

by Posted on September 27th, 2009 at 4:51 pm

Note: The following interview was conducted back in March of 2009, before Seay moved on to Lynchburg College.

Spring 2009 issue of The Greensboro Review

Jordan Elliott: Would The Greensboro Review ever consider changing to an online-only format for publication, or is the magazine comfortable enough in its own skin to resist the changing tides of technology? And what does this say about the magazine’s readership?

Allison Seay: I don’t know that it’s a matter of being comfortable in our skin as much as it is our belief in the importance of the tangible book. It seems to me that in a world increasingly focused on cyberspace and technology, there must be people fighting for the old culture. Print journalism is going down, and between rising production costs and sinking budgets, I feel this tremendous desire to save the old ways. The Greensboro Review has so much tradition behind it anyway—from the cover image to the founding editors to the font—it will be a sad day, I think, if we ever have to give up holding a copy in our hands.

That said, we’re really proud of our new online efforts. Having sample work posted, along with submission guidelines, deadlines, etc., lends a kind of accessibility to the journal and keeps us somewhat in that technological loop. It’s best for us to generate online interest as a way to enhance our subscribers, but not as a substitute for print publication.

Elliott: Where do the editors of The Greensboro Review see the magazine in ten, twenty-five, fifty years?

Seay: I hope we never peak, but are instead always moving upward. Our readership has increased in the last few years, as we’ve been hitting the subscription campaigning pretty hard. We have a new chapbook award that we advertise each year which gives us another opportunity to promote GR and also to do some complimentary copies. In 43 years, nothing too drastic has changed with the magazine. Our standards remain high, our cover remains the same. Every so often we talk about moving to a glossy cover, or printing art and photographs, but it hasn’t happened yet. I suspect the next big move for us will be to begin publishing creative nonfiction and book reviews. Nonfiction, especially, is so hot now and our MFA faculty are excellent essayists. We’d hope for them—in both their current and emeriti roles—to serve the board in additional capacities as contributing editors.

Elliott: How important is the Southern aspect to the magazine? Is the Southern association considered a geographical, cultural, or literary influence at all?

Photo of Allison Seay by Rachel Mann

Seay: The Greensboro Review, because it is housed in the South, is a Southern magazine technically. I don’t think, though, that what we publish is Southern. In our last issue, only four contributors are from the South; three writers are New Yorkers, three Californians, two Pennsylvanians, one Texan, one Rhode Islander, and one a New Zealander. If I crunched some numbers, it might be that many of our submissions come from North Carolina, since this might be the region where the journal is most known—but, as is clearly the case, the work we publish comes from all over. We do get comments a lot about our “Southern manners,” which we have come to interpret as just “manners,” and we are proud of that. We maintain our reputation for keeping in touch throughout the editorial process with kind, snail-mailed letters.

As for the second question, as long as there are discernible geographies and regions, then art will emerge out of them.

Elliott: This is a bit off the wall, but a recent report ranked Greensboro, North Carolina as one of the United States’ most “abandoned cities” based on housing prices and other things. Does the current economic recession have any affect on the state of affairs at the magazine? How do you and the other editors view the state of literary art in troubled economic times?

Seay: For some reason, the idea of living in an abandoned city sounds cool to me. But that could be the same idea that drew me to the MFA program here years ago (so much so that I never left). Greensboro was first called “Sleeping Beauty” by our resident genius Randall Jarrell. When Robert Watson, later the founder of our MFA program, asked him why he thought this town had become a mecca for writers, Jarrell looked toward the UNCG campus and said, “It is Sleeping Beauty.” Though Greensboro has become much more urban, it is no metropolis nor is it rural retreat. Instead, it is a kind of sleepy refuge, a different air. There isn’t a whole lot to do except write. The recession has done its damage to UNCG as it has to many other schools. So far it has not affected the printing of The Greensboro Review, though we realize the danger is there. In these hard times, I am reminded all the more of the redemptive power of art. Now more than ever I find William Faulkner’s Nobel speech appropriate: “The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man; it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.”