Contemporary Journals


Report by Sarah Haman

“LUMINA transcends geography, form and theme” (Sarah Lawrence College MFA Writing Program). The mission statement of the small, graduate run, literary journal has undergone a near complete transformation since the publication of its first volume back in 2002. The journal is longer, includes fewer genres, and has a more organized theme than it used to. The journal is currently supported by an online journal, blog, podcast, and a multilingual journal. The transformation from the first journal to the current issue has seen many changes that have made the journal more modern and professional to fit in with many other graduate run journals in the United States. The transformation from the journal’s humble beginnings to an annually themed issue is a unique twist in the literary community and sets it apart from hundreds of other MFA programs. While not the most experimental or prominent journal, it is having a successful run as it changes and grows through experimentation in content, form, and its pretense.

While the journal’s overarching mission statement sounds nice, like many other journals, it lacks specificity. In this case, this mission must be vague with a staff that changes annually.  Currently, the journal publishes themed issues as it calls for poetry, fiction, and non-fiction that fits their annually announced theme, and they also publish interviews. Volume 17, the most current issue, is filled with creative work all centered around the theme of “Resistance” (Johnson). The newly selected editor from a pool of second-year MFA candidates selects the theme and calls for work centered around a specific atheistic. The aesthetic of LUMINA is always shifting, but it does seem to hold a mixture of conventional and experimental work. While the prose is a good balance of the two, the visual art in the journal always appears more experimental. One particular issue, Volume 14, received a lot of attention for its cover art. The cover depicted a young woman wearing a blue swimsuit, lounging by the pool with her head lulled to the side and her hand resting between her sprawled legs. She is also covered in a glistening substance. The mission of that journal was “to start conversation,” as stated in the editor’s statement at the beginning of the journal, and it accomplished its goal as it stands to be its most memorable issue to date. In the most recent addition of the journal, the art is more pronounced than in the first issue, as its first issue only had cover art. In volume 17, the art inside the cover is colorful and all fits in with the theme of resistance. The art comes from many different contributors, and unlike some journals, the appeal for artists is more prominent. The current issue contrasts its colorful and vivid art on the inside with a black and white photo on the outside.

The journal did not start out looking for experimental work. The first issue of the journal has a cover depicting a stone staircase and is full of more mainstream content. In the first volume’s editor’s statement, they welcome the reader to the first issue and explain that the journal is a passion project two years in the making. At this time, it published “poetry, short fiction, creative nonfiction, short drama, reviews, and critical essays written by the students, alumni, and staff of the Graduate Program at Sarah Lawrence College.” While the genres accepted were more broad, the contributor pool was limited to those who taught at or attended the University. Since 2002, the journal has become more organized and has allowed anyone the opportunity for publication, yet it still allows current MFA candidates entry.

While there are no widely recognized authors in LUMINA, there are meaningful names in the pages of the journal, especially in the genre of poetry. Stephen Dobyns is an American poet published in LUMINA who has written several novels, two movies, and has been the recipient of the National Poetry Series and the James Laughlin Award. Bill Knott, Suzanne Gardinier, and Lorna Blake are just a few well-known poets published in the journal. LUMINA has also seen successful prose writers like Carolyn Ferrell who won the First Book Award for her collection of short stories titled Don’t Erase Me. Well-known names are not the sole contributor (if a contributor at all) to the success or failure of a literary magazine, but it does credit the journal’s importance as these authors continued to publish great work and receive recognition after being published in LUMINA.

The content of the magazine is described as “conventional and quirky” by The Review Review, and the journal has expanded to more than solely its physical presence to maintain their balance of publication. LUMINA has a podcast called Firefly, a “storytelling and craft talk podcast of LUMINA Journal, where we talk all things wordy and spin a story or two of our own. Each episode explores craft, perspectives and literary talent” (Sarah Lawrence College MFA Writing Program). This podcast is a brand new edition to the journal, only consisting of a single episode broken into two parts. In the episode titled “Writing and Music” they “Explore how music manifests in writing, and how it can enhance both the writing craft and the storytelling genre. Firefly producer Andrew Scheid interviews writer and ex-musician David Ryan, and we hear from writers in the Sarah Lawrence community who are employing music into their work.” (Sarah Lawrence College MFA Writing Program). This addition to the journal is still in its infancy, so it is hard to say if the addition is successful or helpful as of yet, but it does seem to follow the pattern that larger university sponsored journals are becoming more multimodal.

Additionally, the journal has an online publication simply called LUMINA Online, in which the content appears more experimental than what it published in the physical journal. LUMINA’s website is well-designed and easy to navigate. The art and the prose are more experimental. Currently, there are eight annually published online journals that are more free with what they publish. With their ninth publication, they are trying something new and will be releasing the digital copy through a series of weekly publications. This format is solely reserved for emerging writers, yet the content is not lacking when compared to the physical journal, it just has a different aesthetic. And in most cases, I prefer the content of the online journal to the physical, because it feels less constrained by its format.

Another addition from the old journal to the new is the introduction of contests. While the submission process feels like a contest, the actual writing contest is annually announced by both the physical and online journal. These competitions are separate, however. They both name a specific genre for the contest along with a guest judge. In the most recent publication, the contest was in poetry. The winners, Stephanie Johnson, Derick Ebert, and Ariel Vinson are published in the middle of the magazine. The pages their poems are on have a red bar along the edge of each page so it is visible in the journal and easy to flip to. While standard contributors are not paid for their work, the contest winner receives an unspecified amount of money.

The blog and the multilingual journal are also run by the graduate program. While the multilingual journal, La Lengua, is still in development, the blog is massively successful. It covers all sorts of topics ranging from interviews to MFA/writing advice. One of the most read entries of the blog is part of their “In Conversation” series, in which they interviewed Jericho Brown on his new book, The Tradition.

While LUMINA doesn’t appear to stand out in the literary community among the louder journals like F(r)iction or Tin House, it is successful in its own way. The journal is by no means avant-garde. It is still relatively young and isn’t filled with massively famous contributors (though it does have a few). However, LUMINA is steadily making lasting changes that are quietly beginning to give LUMINA a unique identity in the literary journal world. The addition of its more organized format, aesthetically specific issues, and its online presence are well put together and easy to access. LUMINA is still at a place where it feels comfortable with taking risks.  Its constantly changing staff contributes to these risks. It’s refreshing to see a journal that does not feel trapped in its aesthetic or by the conventions it started with.  While there is a very vague mission attached to the journal as a whole, the specified mission of volume 14 seems to have set the tone for the journal since its publication. Starting a conversation is a task that LUMINA accomplishes with each annual publication as it focuses on contemporary issues and strives for a balance between the contemporary and the experimental.

Works Cited

Burack, Alexandra, editor. Lumina: at Sarah Lawrence College. Isaacson Associates, 2002.

Johnson, Victoria, editor. Lumina: Resistance. 2017.

Sarah Lawrence College MFA Writing Program. Lumina, 2019, Accessed 15 Apr. 2019.