Interview With Drafthorse Journal
Author: Darnell Arnoult and Denton Loving
What makes drafthorse a unique part of the publishing community? How did you get your start?
Drafthorse is one of the few—if not the only—journals dedicated to writing about work and the absence of work.
The idea came because our school, Lincoln Memorial University (LMU) in Harrogate, Tennessee, was founded as a work school, also referred to as an opportunity school. Students milked cows, picked tomatoes, ran the laundry and more. The writer James Still paid his tuition at LMU by breaking rock in the campus quarry and later by cleaning the library at night. As times have changed and as the university has evolved, we now consider ourselves a career-path university because of our strong professional studies programs that help students be the most employable after they graduate.
We started talking about Lincoln Memorial University’s history in 2011 as we considered how to create a journal that was relevant to today’s world but also served the mission of our school. It took us about a year to finalize the concept, and then we went about soliciting work for the first issue. We later referred to that first issue as our sampler issue, because we wanted it to exemplify the kind of writing that we always want to showcase in the journal. Now we’ve just released our third issue, and when we look at the quality of the writing, we’re really pleased and excited.
Drafthorse really picks materials from a range of genres and styles. It’s clearly a strength. What ties your works together?
Again, that theme of work is what ties everything together. Work is such an integral force in all of our lives. The pieces published in drafthorse are pieces that we believe tell stories where work is a central component. We hope that this is never a surface conceit. Rather, we’re truly interested in writing where work, occupation, labor, or the lack of it, is in some way intrinsic to the potential for epiphany.
What is the readership like for drafthorse? What do you imagine your typical reader is like?
That’s a great question, and we’re not entirely sure who’s reading drafthorse yet. We’ve only published our third issue, and we’ve relied heavily on social media and word of mouth to find an audience. So we know that our readers so far are often also writers. But our mission, especially as it ties to our theme of work and the absence of work, is to publish stories, poems and essays that are accessible and meaningful to all readers. The theme of work makes that infinitely possible as we grow and further develop our readership.
I often ask publishers what they look for in a manuscript. I’m also interested in what causes editors to lose interest in a manuscript. What causes you to put down a manuscript for the magazine?
Of course, like all editors, we want the language to be beautiful and interesting. We want the narrative to pull us in, and just like any other readers, we want material that makes us hold our breath as we go to the next page or the next poem.
Truthfully, what causes us to lose interest in manuscripts are usually the most simple things. It’s frustrating when sentences are poorly formed and can’t stand up on their own. It’s troublesome when submitters don’t follow any form or logical punctuation or formatting, which isn’t to say that we aren’t accepting of experimental work. But we want the experiment to be warranted by the story, and consistency is always nice.
Those things are roadblocks to allowing editors to get to the real story or the heart of the poem, etc. Unfortunately, those roadblocks stop us from reading because time is so short. When there aren’t roadblocks, we are truly committed to reading entire submissions. Because of that, we’ve found work that we’ve liked, not enough to take as is, but enough to offer extensive editing suggestions. We enjoy working with writers, when we see something that we know can go farther and deeper. Being on watch for those writers and those narratives compel us to keep reading.
What is the next exciting thing happening at drafthorse?
We’re always excited about the ways writers find to look at and write about work. We’re only in the beginning stages of compiling our Summer 2013 issue, but the number and quality of submissions is incredible. There are some poems we’re especially excited about that take place in outer space, the first time we’ve had an opportunity to tackle work in this area. Also with this issue, we have an increased number of first readers. They will help us really give every submission conscientious consideration. And we’re excited to have a few more cooks in the kitchen.