Are your textbooks a little too dry? Does reading them make you want to cry?
Why not give Byzantium, the award-winning literary journal that showcases the best poetry and creative fiction Cal Poly students have to offer, a try? (Plus, this year’s edition is free.)
“Byzantium allows people to see the different talent that we have on campus and to support our student writers,” said Cheryl Cochran, an English junior and co-editor of the publication along with English junior Rebekah Maples.
Written, designed and edited entirely by Cal Poly students, the annual journal enjoys a rich history of collaboration between the English and art and design departments, as well as student writers from other majors.
Created in 1991 as a senior project, Byzantium embodies the winning works of each year’s Al Landwehr Creative Writing Contest, named after the prominent Cal Poly English professor who started it in 1970.
As part of the contest, first-, second- and third-place winners are chosen in poetry and fiction writing, and editors also select their favorites. The contest culminates in a banquet dinner where the journal is unveiled and writings are acknowledged and read aloud.
First-place winners receive $100 in prize money, but more importantly, all authors enjoy the recognition that comes from being published in a professional-grade literary journal. This year, 17 writers were chosen for Byzantium, including English senior Johannes Lichtman.
“Publication is very hard to come by for young writers and is usually the first step in forming any type of writing career,” said Lichtman, who won first place for his fiction story entitled “Tom Cruise is Crazy.” “This contest gives students the confidence they need to pursue that goal.”
Before Byzantium, winners of the Creative Writing Contest were printed in the Mustang Daily. In 1990, the newspaper could no longer afford the extra print space, so Byzantium was created as a separate publication.
In the past, Byzantium has celebrated both English and art by packaging award-winning literary content in an often elaborate and decorative design.
This year, however, editors decided to focus more on content and less on producing a beautiful book, in order to reduce production costs. There will be 1,000 copies of Byzantium printed this year, up from last year’s 450 copies, allowing the journal to be distributed for free to more readers than in years past.
“We realized a lot of people didn’t know what Byzantium was, so we’re trying to spread the word and make it more available,” Cochran said.
That is not to say that this year’s Byzantium will be any less eye-pleasing than previous editions.
“It still looks beautiful; we’re just trying to produce it for a fraction of the cost,” said Molly Choma, an art and design senior and layout editor for Byzantium. “I’m excited to share something we’ve worked really hard on with a thousand other people. It’s not an opportunity every student at Cal Poly gets.”
This year’s edition was budgeted at $5,000, which came from various donations and fundraising events, including February’s “Loverspeak,” a Valentine’s Day poetry reading event hosted by faculty and students.
The journal will be unveiled at Veranda Café at 7 p.m on June 7, and anyone is welcome to attend the free dinner. After that, editors hope to have copies available around campus, but those looking for a copy will find one in the English department for free.
“It’s a way for students to enjoy creative writings written by people like them instead of a bunch of dead white men,” said Helen Knight, an English graduate student who won first place for her poem “The Source of My Fondness for Michael Jackson.”
“From serious to funny, there’s a lot of variety and something for everyone,” he said. “Plus it’s free, so you really can’t go wrong.”