“Salamander” editor speaks

BOSTON — Jennifer Barber sits at her computer in the cramped Salamander office, located in Suffolk University’s Fenton building. Her computer monitor shows some open windows, most of which seem to be emails – proof that she’s always working hard. As the literary journal’s founder and editor-in-chief, she has to be.Jenny BarberSalamander publishes fiction, poetry, and memoirs for a national and international audience. It celebrated its 15th anniversary last year. Before coming to Suffolk University a few years ago, Barber ran it out of her home. She began thinking about founding a literary journal while she was in graduate school, but it took her about 10 years after completion of her graduate studies to make her dream a reality.

“I wanted to [start a journal] because there weren’t many journals for new authors,” she says. Her original market for Salamander included both the new writers she was publishing and those people she refers to as “informed general readers.”

Salamander isn’t just for writers. It’s for readers who understand, appreciate, and enjoy good writing. I didn’t want it to be like a club,” she continues.

And it isn’t. The magazine has grown exponentially since its original form; the newer editions are about double the size of the earlier ones. And what does the future hold?

“I want to expand the fiction section,” Barber says, referring to the fact that only four or five fictional stories are published in each edition, “to balance the content.” She also plans to continue including artist profiles, as this somewhat new addition to the journal helps it branch out into other art forms.

Salamander is nothing less than a triumph, a quiet diffusion of luminous work,” writes Laura Polley in her recent review of Volume 12 Number 2 on NewPages.com. “The diligence and care of the… editors is evident on every page, as is a commitment to diverse, expansive writing.” Finding writing that appeals to a multitude of readers is, ultimately, Barber’s goal.

“Running a journal is all about getting work that you like and believe in, despite limitations in budget and circumstances,” Barber explains. She cites the thought and deliberation that goes into the selection process as her main task, especially since the journal only accepts roughly one percent of the pieces it receives during each submission cycle, which runs from October through May.

But running a journal is also very time-consuming, a fact which Barber has had to contend with. The impact of this particular job on her life has been large, but its nature keeps changing. Early on, she worked as a proofreader at Houghton-Mifflin, and it was difficult to juggle editing a journal with a full-time job and raising a child, but later, when she was a freelance writer, she had more time but a much smaller budget.

Now that Barber also works as an English professor at Suffolk University, the balancing act is slightly easier. Professors generally have two main tasks: teaching and researching. Barber considers Salamander to be her “research time,” and she publishes the magazine two times a year in conjunction with her teaching responsibilities and class schedules.

“From the beginning, the magazine has used editorial interns. This is something I believe strongly in, because beginning writers need to get a sense of the work that’s out there and develop their critical sensibilities. They should be familiar with the idea of literary standards that lead to publication, beyond just the classroom and workshops,” she says, showing that her dedication to teaching balances well with her work on the journal.

A two-year, four-issue subscription to Salamander costs $23. A single copy of the current issue is $7; single copies of back issues are $3. Orders can be placed by sending a check to Subscriptions/Salamander, Suffolk University, 41 Temple St., Boston, MA 02114. More information, including submission guidelines, can be found on Salamandermag.org.

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