The 2012 edition of Ivory Tower, a literary magazine of work by undergraduate University of Minnesota writers, artists, and musicians, celebrated its release on Wednesday, April 25 2012 at The Whole, in the basement of the Coffman Memorial Union. The book is a product of a year-long class in which undergraduate students learn and perform the entire process of creating a publication—delegation of responsibilities, calls for submissions, editorial selections, layout, design, printing, and now, finally, planning and hosting a launch party.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect going into this event—I didn’t attent the U or have an opportunity to participate in a program like this when I was an undergrad. I spoke briefly with the one perennial constant of the Ivory Tower staff , the class’s graduate advisor and local poet Sarah Fox (Coffee House Press). Sarah seemed calmly optmistic about the night’s event. ”It’s all undergraduate work,” she made sure I understood, and when that didn’t cause me to run for the door, she explained a bit more about the program. Roughly, her synopsis was, “Every year its an entirely new staff of undergraduates, collecting submissions from other undergrads and putting the whole thing together… It’s a valuable thing.”
The reading itself was well attended by Staff, contributors, and their supporting friends (and a couple of nervous looking parents). The event was perfectly suited to the venue: the Whole Music Club is laid out like a tidy dive bar, with dark, low ceilings and chaotic wall art, yet organized and particularly well lit. The art recalls graffiti but is clearly intentional, commissioned work. On either side of the stage are large video screens. It’s a multi-purpose venue and has seen several local and national acts in multiple genres, which is why the Ivory Tower launch party fit so well. As the magazine incorporated fiction, poetry, and nonfiction into its pages, so too did it expand its submissions to include visual art and audio (the publication’s table of contents includes songs available to stream on the Ivory Tower website).
The performances were many and diverse, with each reader and performer giving voice to her or his vision. Joe Kopel played a few selections of his Dylan-influenced rootsy folk songs; Laura Burnes read from her short story “Because of Herman Melville” (including one memorable passage, which I misquote: “I hate the term ‘Sugar Daddy,’ like it’s sugar I suck on. It isn’t candy, all shriveled up like Grape Nuts…”); Torsten Johnson read a handful of beat-style self-searching love poetry; and Mark Brenden overcame his nerves to share some of the finest work of the evening (prior to reading his poem “Hooray America,” he declared that “If my hands are shaking, it’s just because you’re all looking at me”). Alyssa Pintar welcomed us back form intermission by tearing the house down with her pian0-and-vocal performance; Sarah Moen‘s creaky-voiced reading of her short fiction “The Relentless Sun” gave the subject matter—aging and degeneration—a palpable feel; Tim Schumacher slammed us with his sci-fi masculine verse, the microphone popping the P’s of his closing declaration, “I AM THE PISTON! I AM THE PISTON!”; Sasha Chandavong slowed things down with the poignant and brief nonfiction work, “Vibhadi Road”; and Erin Murphy recited her poem “Erosion” from memory before concluding the night with a smile and a curtsy.
The selections came mostly from the pages of Ivory Tower’s 2012 edition, though not everyone included in the publication read. And amazingly, none of the Ivory Tower staff was permitted to submit work, so many more clearly creative members of this community weren’t represented by either the words in these pages or on stage. The book itself is an achievement of layout and design, though: Shannon Fletcher, Teresa Hayes, and Megan Sharp are certainly a “design triumvirate” (their term) to keep an eye on. I particularly enjoyed the justification of including blank pages near the end of the magazine: “We learned over the course of this project,” went the pith of a statement made by one of the editors,”that our community extends beyond just the staff and the contributors. It includes the readers and the audience, and because you’re here tonight, you’re a part of this community too. So these pages are for you.” A touching representation of what this literary community means in all of its locations, shapes, and stages.
Much of the work on display seemed to still be searching for its persona, the work of a process more than a coherent expression. Yet for as tentative as the work may be, the performances were brazen and courageous. Ivory Tower captures a proud moment of transition in many young artists’ lives. The launch party for the 2012 edition of Ivory Tower was not so much a celebration of craft and accomplishment, but one of energy and potential. And though these attributes rarely appeared simultaneously, each abounded. A valuable thing, indeed.
Were you there? Have a different take on the event? Chime in on the comments below. Also, check the schedule to the right and be at the next LitSeen attended event! See you around.