‘Normal’ magazine finishes print run among nation’s best for inclusion, notable essays

The Normal School cover

~ By Jefferson Beavers, communication specialist, Department of English

Fresno State’s locally grown, nationally known literary magazine, The Normal School, ended its print-edition era by earning high marks for gender parity for the sixth year in a row in a nationwide report. The magazine also had an essay published and two essays mentioned in the newest editions of the annual Best American series.

The Normal School was again celebrated in the highlights of the 2019 VIDA Count, an annual report that examines gender parity and inclusion in U.S. literary publications by counting the number of women writers, non-binary writers and writers of color who are published or reviewed.

In its July report, VIDA singled out The Normal School for having 60.9 percent of its 2019 bylines by women, ranked fifth for gender parity among 24 national publications in its Larger Literary Landscape VIDA Count. The magazine published nearly 2:1 women writers vs. men in its final spring/summer 2019 issue.

The ranking placed The Normal School among the nation’s best, alongside literary magazines such as the Missouri Review (68.9 percent), Pleiades (64.3 percent) and Prairie Schooner (59.3 percent). The Normal School again fared better in the VIDA Count than many other major publications in its class, including the venerable Gettysburg Review (42.5 percent), the New England Review (35.6 percent) and the Southwest Review (33.3 percent).

Earning mentions in the Best American series — the annual anthologies published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt that serve as the premiere annual showcase of literary writing in the country — gives The Normal School more national accolades. The Best American series books were published in November.

Published in Best American Essays 2020 was “Cosmic Latte” by Ron Huett, originally published in The Normal School in spring/summer 2019.

Earning “Notable Essays and Literary Nonfiction of 2019” recognition were “Eating the Food of the Dead” by Gayle Brandeis and “Black Widow” by Ann Hood, both also published in spring/summer 2019.

Back and front cover of the final Normal School Magazine print edition

The national kudos felt bittersweet for Fresno State English professor Steven Church, one of The Normal School’s founding editors. The magazine ended its 11-year run in print and moved to online-only publication for the 2019-20 academic year, following a national trend in literary magazines to move to virtual formats.

Church still serves as the faculty coordinator for the magazine, which is now fully staffed by graduate students of the University’s Master of Fine Arts program. At the end of its print run, the magazine said goodbye to its longtime managing editor, art director and production staff.

The all-student editorial team has responded. Between September 2019 and May 2020, the magazine published a Pop Culture special issue as well as more than 70 individual pieces to The Normal School’s website, marking a full transition to online.

“The thing I’m most proud of is the way that our students have made it their own, not just in terms of the magazine’s mission, but also the way that they have taken on the production workflow and worked directly with contributors,” Church said. “The sheer quantity of high-quality writing they published last year, and the drive and ambition it took to make that happen, is humbling.”

In addition to the consistently high marks for gender parity, the graduate student staff has pledged to expand the magazine’s commitment to inclusion, especially among Black, indigenous and writers of color, as well as LGBTQ+ and non-binary writers.

You can subscribe to The Normal School’s monthly email newsletter to follow its progress and read its genre-bending essays, stories, poems, multimedia and interviews.

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The College of Arts and Humanities provides a diverse student population with the communication skills, humanistic values and cultural awareness that form the foundation of scholarship. The college offers intellectual and artistic programs that engage students and faculty and the community in collaboration, dialog and discovery. These programs help preserve, illuminate and nourish the arts and humanities for the campus and for the wider community.

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