In our series The Future of Publishing, we reintroduce alumni of UNCW’s publishing program, including former Ecotone and Lookout staffers, who have gone on to careers in the industry. We continue our series with a profile of Southern Humanities Review’s Caitlin Rae Taylor.
As the editor of Southern Humanities Review, a literary quarterly published by Auburn University’s Department of English, Caitlin Rae Taylor does a little bit of everything, from reading submissions and creating production schedules to managing author contracts and designing covers. “If you can think of a task for working on a literary magazine,” she says, “I probably do it.”
Taylor developed these skills as a student in the MFA program at UNCW, where she was the fiction editor for Ecotone and the graduate publishing assistant for Lookout Books. Both Ecotone and Lookout are teaching entities housed in the Department of Creative Writing’s Publishing Laboratory, which aims to provide students with a foundation in editing and publishing. Many students arrive at UNCW feeling like Taylor did: “Being an editor was so far-fetched to me when I was in high school and college, and there were no classes at my undergraduate institution that had anything to do with publishing,” she recalls. “I of course had this amorphous dream about moving to NYC and publishing books, but I had no true path to get there.” But then she enrolled in the Ecotone practicum. This class was her first glimpse into the mystifying world of publishing, and she says it “unlocked everything.”
“Ecotone taught me how to compile a book as an art object, how the pieces in an anthology relate to one another, how they relate to the visual and document design. Lookout taught me how to technically master these kinds of designs, how to market a book, how to structure a production schedule, how to write marketing copy.”
“Ecotone taught me how to compile a book as an art object, how the pieces in an anthology relate to one another, how they relate to the visual and document design,” she says. “Lookout Books taught me how to technically master these kinds of designs, how to market a book, how to structure a production schedule, how to write marketing copy.”
Taylor credits UNCW faculty Emily Louise Smith and Anna Lena Philips Bell, as well as former faculty member Beth Staples, with shaping her editorial philosophy. A central part of that philosophy is imagining a magazine or press as a pedagogical opportunity that can help make the publishing industry more accessible to students. In this model, faculty editors not only manage entities as part of their research, they also teach students what they’re doing and how publishing works. “This passing of knowledge on to budding editors is just as vital to an editor’s life as is the act of editing sentences,” Taylor notes.
At Auburn and Southern Humanities Review, Taylor’s teaching not only serves students who might not otherwise have opportunities to intern with magazines and publishers, it also challenges her as an editor and strengthens manuscripts. Students’ feedback is invaluable to her: “Their fresh perspectives allow editors to reimagine what we think we know about writing, storytelling, and poetry. . . . In this sense, I am not just apprenticing young editors, I am constantly engaging in the act of apprenticeship myself.”
“Their fresh perspectives allow editors to reimagine what we think we know about writing, storytelling, and poetry. . . . In this sense, I am not just apprenticing young editors, I am constantly engaging in the act of apprenticeship myself.”
Helping with the submissions process as a student at UNCW is something Taylor remembers well, particularly the time she encountered “Organ Cave” by Mesha Maren in Ecotone’s queue. “I knew as soon as I read the piece that it was something special,” she recalls. Although Maren’s story was not published until after Taylor graduated, she still gets excited thinking about the moment she received issue 27 in the mail and saw the story she’d first encountered two years earlier: “It was surreal and exciting, and maybe it was the first time I really felt like I might know what I’m doing as an editor, that I had been taught well, apprenticed well.”
She also remembers reading the book proposal for Cameron Dezen Hammon’s memoir This Is My Body: A Memoir of Religious and Romantic Obsession, which Lookout published in 2019. The proposal taught her about the acquisition process leading to a nonfiction book, but it also revealed something about her own creative work. “Much of my own writing is and was at the time about the church, about growing up religious, about being a woman in religious spaces,” she says. “Here was this memoir that spoke so directly to my own interests. . . . It opened up the genre for me.”
As for how working as a literary editor currently influences Taylor’s own writing, it depends. Some days, she admits, all she wants to do after reading so much at work is to go home and watch TV. “But there are other days,” she says, “where I find a gem in the SHR submission queue, and the writing is so electric that all I can do after 5 p.m. is write to try and match the excellence of what I’ve read.” Working as a full-time editor keeps her constantly engaged with the literary world, and she likes the idea of stealing time on the weekends or arriving to the office a little early to work on her own story collection.
“There’s no right way to be a writer, and there’s no right way to have a writing practice. We work when we can, and we let the life we live fuel and inspire that work.”
Thank you to Lookout staffer Laura Traister for her contributions to this profile.