Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois

Illinois Department of English Blog


Welcome to the Department of English blog.

My name is Vicki Mahaffey and I took over as
head of the department on July 1, 2016. I'll be using this site to post updates and information of interest to our faculty, students, and alumni,
along with reflections about our discipline(s) in particular and the humanities in general. As anyone who has ever worked or studied here knows, the Department of English is a vibrant place. If you have something you'd like to see posted here, or if you want to contact me about the content of this blog, drop me an email at

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Ninth Letter

I just received, and so spent part of the afternoon reading, the latest issue of Ninth Letter, the gorgeous, hefty, and always-interesting literary magazine that our creative writing program produces in collaboration with faculty and students from The School of Art and Design. Actually, to call Ninth Letter a literary magazine is to do it an injustice: each volume contains highly accomplished stories and poems and creative non-fiction pieces, true, but they are presented as part of an elaborate visual scheme too, illustrated with arresting, enigmatic images and set on pages that also feature striking visual frames that can operate like non-verbal side stories. A given issue of Ninth Letter is, self-consciously, a magazine to read and an object to encounter all at once. And that's part of the point, since (as their website says) each issue "seeks to merge literature with various fields of creative and intellectual life, such as visual arts, journalistic arts, science, history, and cultural studies. We seek these intersections not only in the creative content we accept, but also in the overall design and form of the magazine itself. In this sense, we view the magazine as an organic work of art: the overall interaction among the components is as important as the discrete objects within the content."

This latest issue (5.2: Fall+Winter 2008-9) has a thematic focus on music and on the synaesthetic interaction of music with literary and visual arts. One of the things I like about the collaborative, creative spirit behind Ninth Letter is that each issue takes its own shape so there is a minimum of formal restriction and plenty of room for creative improvisation. A reader finds little, unexpectedly interesting things in every part of the volume. In this issue, I really enjoyed the contributors' notes for example—when was the last time you heard anyone say that? The section contains not only information about what the various writers featured have published and where they work and live, but also how they answered a question about what music they like to listen to while they write. Kind of fun to put this information together with the pieces one has read (was "Chinese Apples" really written to the dulcet sounds of Scritti Politti?) and also just to think about the range of answers people give to this question and so about the endless variety of rituals involved in people's writing processes.

I also like the regular feature "where we're at" which features short pieces on "the wonders, oddities, and complexities of the heartland." Those of you who live in Champaign Urbana might find yourself looking a bit differently at Meadowbrook Park after reading John Griswold's piece in this section.

If you'd like to subscribe to Ninth Letter, you can do so here. If you'd like to do more to support Ninth Letter, you can do that, too, here.

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