Ivan Van Wingerden, one of the editors' choices for poetry, reads his poem"Blind Date" to an audience at Sally Loo's Sunday. Photo by Kristin Roberts

Editor’s Note: Byzantium co-editor Beth Shirley is also a Mustang Daily copy editor. 

Cal Poly students unveiled their student project, Byzantium, a publication of the winners of the 40th Landwehr Creative Writing Contest winners, at Sally Loo’s Sunday night.

Byzantium is the senior project of English seniors Mateja Lane and Beth Shirley, and Art and Design senior, Melissa Titus. Senior editors Lane and Shirley worked with Titus, the project’s art director, to compile the list of works by Cal Poly students.

The project includes works submitted to the Landwehr contest.

Kevin Clark, faculty advisor for Byzantium worked with the three students to help organize the project; positions that he said nine different students applied to for. They had a lot of applicants for the project and choosing Byzantium’s editors is not something the department takes lightly, he said.

“The most important thing we look for is a good sense of responsibility,” Clark said. “This project reflects on the university and the department.”

Being published in Byzantium opens up many doors for Cal Poly students looking to become professional writers after school, Clark said.

Three recent winners, published in Byzantium all graduated from the graduate creative writing program at University of California, Davis. Others have received scholarships to attend graduate writing programs across the country.

Byzantium, in its 20th year, has acted as the publication for the Al Landwehr Award ever since Mustang Daily ceased to publish the contest’s winners back in 1991, due to financial restraints. This is the 40th year students have submitted original poems and short stories to be published.

As a result of the Mustang Daily’s ceasing to publish the contest winners in ’91, English alumna Jocelyn Webb Pedersen immediately suggested that she edit and publish the first journal as her senior project. Drawing on the name of the utopian city in the poems of W. B Yeats, Pedersen titled the journal “Byzantium.”

The journal includes first, second and third places for poetry and short-stories chosen by a panel of English faculty as well as three poems and short-stories selected by the student editors.

In order to remain an equal and balanced opportunity for students to have their work chosen for the journal students submit their work under a pseudonym. This ensures everyone has an equal opportunity to be published, Clark said.

In addition to the winners of the Landwehr winners, editors of Byzantium are able to chose their favorite works to include in the editors’ choice section of the journal.

The editors were able to agree on their favorite poems and short stories fairly easily, Shirley said. They took notes on what the judges said about the winners and read through what seemed like “hundreds of stories and poems” before choosing their favorites, she added.

“The editors’ choices are definitely the best of the poem’s and short stories that weren’t selected by the faculty,” Shirley said. “We took the faculty’s suggestions and comments into consideration but ultimately it was our decision.”

Being published in Byzantium is a good way for students to get the ball rolling in their writing careers, Shirley said. Writers often have to send their work to multiple publishers before it gets noticed.

“Everyone has a novel that they think they have to write,” Shirley said. “Someone once told me if you have something that’s worth publishing you should send it all over. By the time you get rejected from the first place you should have already sent it to the next, until you get it published.”

While getting published may be a difficult task, the real struggle was for the student editors of the journal to be able to get the necessary funding for the project.

They knew they would have an uphill battle with financing the project this year. The English department was a huge help with funding Byzantium, senior editor Lane said.

“Everyone knows that in a financial slump arts are the first thing to go,” Lane said. “The English department was able to help us get most of the money we needed for the printing.”

It was the looming struggle of finding the funding for the project that help the editors come up with this year’s theme, they said.

“We knew we had to be really bold with our approach to the project,” Lane said. “So we went with ‘boldly forward’ as our theme. Melissa’s design of a bold, red B on the cover fit perfectly.”

Some of the previous designs were too extravagant for this year’s theme, she added.

Sunday night Byzantium was passed out to friends and colleagues who sat inside Sally Loo’s waiting for the poems and short stories to be read by their authors. People in the coffee shop unwrapped their copies of the journal and followed along as the winners of the poetry and short-story categories read their entire works.

All of the writers were able to combine good story telling and drawing from within to create their pieces, Clark said.

“Good work always has a conflict, a problem,” Clark said. “Either the main character overcomes that problem or they don’t. I can teach people conflict resolution. I can teach stanzas and beginnings and endings. Ultimately, writers have an intuitive understanding to writing that comes from within and that’s not something I can teach.”

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