One of America's most respected literary magazines—Virginia Quarterly Review out of the University of Virginia—is teaming up with the University of Georgia Press, longtime publisher of the now-retired Contemporary Poetry Series to bring out a new series of poetry books, tentatively called the VQR Poetry Series, which will debut its first four titles next January.
The VQR Poetry Series is the brainchild of Ted Genoways, the editor of VQR. Genoways is a poet himself, and he will act as the editor of the series, selecting manuscripts for publication with the assistance of the VQR poetry board, which helps select poetry for the magazine.
For Genoways, the idea for the series was born of dissatisfaction with the contest system by which many books of poetry, especially first books, are published. Small and university presses sponsor these contests, in which a poet sends a manuscript along with a modest reading fee. The manuscripts are read blindly, first by screeners who cull a small group of finalists, then by an outside judge, usually a nationally known poet, who picks one manuscript for publication. Genoways felt that this system often overlooks some of the most interesting work: “Those really odd, daring manuscripts were not making it through all those rounds.”
The plan is to solicit manuscripts for the series from poets who have published in VQR. “It's really the old-fashioned model,” said Genoways, “of a single editor who is working from a circle of poets who are publishing in the magazine and poets who I've seen at conferences and readings or festivals. Every one of those people has their own circle; they see a great manuscript and say, 'You ought to take a look at this.' ” Genoways hopes to create a community of poets helping to promote each other's work and the series. Genoways also hopes to stand by his authors and publish their subsequent books, something rare in poetry publishing, which tends to focus on novelty.
The University of Georgia Press will act as publisher—in charge of producing and promoting the books—and Genoways and VQR will have full editorial control. This is a familiar model for the University of Georgia, which publishes two other annual series of books selected by outside organizations—the Cave Canim poetry prize and the AWP prize for nonfiction. According to Nicole Mitchell, the press's director: “The press has been partnering with other literary organizations, so this follows our model for the literary side of our list.” Mitchell is very happy with this new facet of their poetry program: “We jumped at the opportunity. VQR has long been regarded as a highly influential and award-winning literary magazine.”
While Mitchell says the contract between the University of Georgia and Genoways has not been finalized, according to Genoways, VQR will provide a subsidy of roughly $2,000 per book to offset Georgia's costs: “It's enough that when the press sits down and tries to figure out how many of these books they need to sell to break even, adding $2,000 into the mix brings that number down enough that it becomes a really likely area,” said Genoways.
The series will debut with four books in January, then publish four books a year thereafter. The opening list includes three first books—by Cecily Parks, Jennifer Chang and Kevin McFadden—and one second collection, by “Discovery”/ the Nation award winner Patrick Phillips. Parks, for one, is excited: “I feel really lucky, because I respect VQR so much and I have also loved the books from University of Georgia press for a long time. With the team of both of them, I feel like I hit the jackpot.”