Nearly 20 years ago, as a freshman in an introduction to creative writing class, my writing professor, Tony Earley, told us: “Send it to The Southern Review! They read everything, they publish young writers, and they’ll even write a note of encouragement on your work.” Like many of the others in that class, I started submitting, fiction, poetry, you name it.
And, in the early years, the rejection slips came back gently unmarked, silent. This is approximately what I looked like, as an awkward teenager circa 2000, desperately hoping to become a world-famous writer someday.
Later, the notes started appearing. Sometimes it was just the initials of the editor who had read it. Later, that all-too-powerful word: thanks. And, after 20 or 30 submissions: we loved this one, please keep submitting! And after more than 50 submissions over the course of 19 years, I was thrilled to finally receive notification of my short story, accepted, published, and now available in The Southern Review.
As a graduate of Vanderbilt University, I’ve always held The Southern Review in the highest esteem, largely because it was founded by Robert Penn Warren, also a graduate of Vanderbilt, and author of All the King’s Men, one of my all-time favorite novels. We all have our own reasons for obsessing over certain stories, or projects, or magazines, and, for me, it was always a personal goal of mine to someday join the ranks of those authors who were lucky enough to find their words in TSR.
This week, I’ll mail a copy of the magazine to my old teacher and mentor, Tony Earley, along with another copy to Lorraine Lopez, who gave us all that other critical piece of advice, which was equally important: never give up.