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

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Ninth Letter, v. 7, no. 1

Philip Graham, blogging about the fiction in the new issue of Ninth Letter (our award-winning literary journal, produced by our creative writers in collaboration with Art & Design), has this to say: "The latest issue of Ninth Letter is out (Spring/Summer 2010), and though I’m semi-famous in the magazine’s offices as the guy who always says, “This is our best issue ever,” I’m gonna have to say it again: this is our best issue, ever." So there you have it.
I've written in this space about the contents of previous issues--I always find much to enjoy and admire. And this is the best issue ever, like the man says. But I'd like to emphasize here, too, how valuable the process of producing each issue of 9L (as we hip insiders, with our 9L lapel buttons, like to call it) is for the students in Creative Writing and Design who work each year on the practical aspects of editing, designing, and publishing each volume and who therefore gain invaluable hands-on experience with with both artistic and logistical aspects of the process.

I could go on about this myself, but I'd rather quote what the Art Director for this issue--Jonathan Krohn--says in his brief introductory note prefacing the volume. Krohn is a visiting Assistant Professor of Graphic Design, and he writes well about the educational process that lies behind the production of a beautiful, compelling volume like 9L 7.1. He's writing about design students, but the same sort of thing could be said for the MFA students lucky enough to work with Jodee Stanley in the 9L office in the English Building.

Krohn writes:


"I was asked to join Ninth Letter when I was on my way to, but had not yet arrived at the University of Illinois campus. In my first year as a Visiting Design Professor, I have been afforded the opportunity to take in all that this school and program have to offer. After a short time here, I soon discovered that participating in Ninth Letter is a goal of any undergraduate design student—and why wouldn’t it be? It is a great opportunity to take real world content and put together a wonderfully smart/exciting/challenging publication over the course of the semester.

On the design side of things, this issue focuses on how we as viewers ‘read’ an image, both formally and conceptually. As a class our design direction was to capture one’s personal ‘read’ of the text—and then try to illustrate it such a way that produces further discussion. Each piece was then shot, designed, and produced by expressing the ‘read’ that the students felt best suited the content. As much as the text plays the leader, the image participates as mimicked and supportive visual device. To take from the essay The Photographic Message, 1977, Roland Barthes, “…the image no longer illustrates the words; it is now the words which, structurally, are parasitic of the image.” We as a class were trying to find the intersection between the written word and the visual descriptor in an effort to unveil those ‘parasitic’ moments.

Throughout the course of the semester, we also documented what it meant to be a ‘designer in the heartland.’ Taking cue from the Where We’re @ portion of the book—we as designers wanted to describe what it is like to be a daily design participant while a) still in school and b) in the ‘heartland’ of America. As a daily exercise throughout the course of the semester, each student was asked to participate in a group image collection where any and every image that answered the question was collected and electronically labeled with a short description. These images make up the book wrap (included with subscriber copies and copies purchased through—a visual diary of the design student in the ‘heartland.’

I am very proud of the outcome of this issue. Working with Jodee and her editorial staff has been both fantastically easy and rewarding. The students have been phenomenal and I thank them for all their hard work—and I hope that you ‘read’ this issue as much as you read this issue."


You can find a table of contents for the new issue here, and I really encourage you to browse around the 9L website while you're there. Lots of interesting podcasts and artist features in the various archives there, for instance. I also encourage you to subscribe, as I do: there is no more satisfying, playful, interesting venue for new creative writing in America.

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