The Cal Poly English department’s annual Byzantium literary journal unveiled its 30th edition in an unprecedented way: an online publication with a week-long celebration of the journal’s history.
The award-winning literary journal was created entirely by undergraduate students. Since 1990, Byzantium’s published stories and poems have shined a spotlight on literary talent at Cal Poly. This is the first year the journal published virtually.
English junior Abby Edgecumbe said she always aspired to have her work published. Now, she is the author of published short story, “Sea Sick,” which won second place in the Byzantium Al Landwehr Fiction Writing Contest.
“I’m so proud of myself and of everyone who is getting published,” Edgecumbe said. “I’ve always really loved the work that gets displayed, so I’m really excited to be among the [published authors] now. It’s just wild.”
Byzantium managing editor and English senior Katherine Flitsch said she knew she wanted to work on the journal since her freshman year at Cal Poly. The Byzantium is usually reserved as a senior project for English majors, but Flitsch hoped to get a taste for publishing sooner and became an assistant editor for the Byzantium in 2019.
Flitsch said producing the first online Byzantium taught her about social media management, distribution management, and digital publishing, among other applicable industry skills.
“Though pieces within this publication were written months or more before these global events began to unfold, they still speak to many aspects of the human experience, and thus are no less relevant still,” Flitsch said.
Cal Poly’s creative writing contest began in 1970 with professor Al Landwehr and was published in the Mustang Daily. When the newspaper could no longer afford to publish the winners in the 1990s, English alumnus Jocelyn Penderson and professor emeritus Kevin Clark decided to print the first Byzantium.
The Byzantium team dedicated the last two years to establishing their work as a literary journal, with its writing contest winners now chosen by a panel of judges rather than by an editor selection, according to Flitsch.
This year, the Byzantium received a registered ISSN for the journal and became an officially recognized catalogue by the U.S. Library of Congress.
The editorial team has since expanded from one student editor to three editors as well as an art director, plus a team of readers. The journal’s scope has grown from being a printed page of contest winners to a registered literary journal that features the contest winners, alongside many other notable student works.
Editing Byzantium is a “challenging, exhilarating way for English majors to gain experience” and earn senior project credit, according to the English department’s website.
In light of the virtual format, Byzantium decided to make the unveiling event a week-long celebration.
The digital journal was released Monday, May 26. The Byzantium’s Instagram, @byzantium.calpoly, will also celebrate the 30 years of history and highlights.
Tuesday will spotlight the journal’s editors with a Q&A panel over Zoom.
“This will be an opportunity for us editors to share our experience and hopefully answer questions that prospective student editors have about the process, passing down our wisdom of experience to the people whom we pass the journal reigns onto next,” said Flitsch.
On Wednesday and Thursday, the featured authors were set to share reflections about their pieces, their writing processes, and themselves on Instagram stories, but these events have been postponed until further notice due to technical difficulties, according to Edgecumbe.
The Friday finale will be a virtual reading event over Zoom from 4-6 p.m. All of these events will be featured on the Byzantium Instagram account throughout the week.
“Most of all, we hope to make [Byzantium] just as rewarding and spotlighting for this year’s authors, who have achieved something truly significant by getting their creative work published,” Flitsch said.
This year’s publication features stories and poems about mythical creatures and settings, fantastical dystopian futures, authentic family experiences, and magical natural settings in San Luis Obispo County, according to Flitsch.
“Reading has always been a wonderful way to escape reality for a little bit, and that, in these times, is such a gift,” Flitsch said. “So much has been changing, and so much has been lost, so it is important to maintain what we can.”
Byzantium’s annual reveal is usually celebrated with an event at a coffee house in downtown San Luis Obispo and an opportunity for the featured authors to read aloud from their published work.
“I was really looking forward to being able to do a reading from my piece – that’s like a writer’s dream,” Edgecumbe said. “But it being virtual is almost even cooler, because now my family members can tune in and feel included.”
Assistant English professor Mira Rosenthal said she will miss the literary-themed cookies served at the journal’s in-person debut event, but that this year’s virtual unveiling will be just as sweet.
“[These stories] remind us of what it means to be human,” Rosenthal said. “They bear witness to our foibles, struggles and delights, and give us heart.”
In addition to its online debut, Byzantium will be available at Kennedy Library in print for free when the library reopens.
In the meantime, Byzantium has been published online for free.