On Gettysburg Review
300 North Washington Street
Gettysburg, PA 17325
October 4, 2023
I write to express my tremendous disappointment in your decision to shutter Gettysburg Review after its thirty-eight years of literary excellence.
As an associate editor of the magazine, a former Emerging Writer Lecturer at Gettysburg College, and as a graduate of a small liberal arts college, I am astonished not only that the administration has decided to abandon one of the nation’s most prestigious and recognizable literary magazines but that it has so dramatically betrayed the liberal arts mission of Gettysburg College—this decision, that is, may seem negligible from the empyrean of Pennsylvania Hall, but it points to deeper structural mismanagement of the College and remains inconsistent with the actions of peer institutions. Indeed, I fear that the closing of GR will leave the College even further behind its competitors.
Like many writers, artists, and academics, I first learned about Gettysburg College through Gettysburg Review; having visited the town as a tourist in high school, I was shocked to learn—many years later, while reading GR in graduate school at Cornell—that there was, in fact, a college in Gettysburg, and that it seemed a haven for the literary and liberal arts. I was thrilled, then, to come work at Gettysburg College after a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford and a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago. It was during this time that I met Peter Stitt, Mark Drew, and Lauren Hohle and began to work with the magazine on a regular basis, volunteering for over a decade now—and despite considerable limitations on my time—because I have believed in Peter’s founding vision and in the stewardship of that vision under Mark and Lauren. Some of the happiest days of my life, and some of the best literary conversations, took place in the Gettysburg Review offices on Washington Street, where I sat with Mark, Lauren, and undergraduate students discussing literature like it was the most important thing in the world.
Their commitment and my own has been rewarded, as you must be aware, in the magazine’s vaunted national reputation, with regular appearances in anthologies such as Best American Essays, Best American Short Stories, and Best American Poetry, and with frequent accolades such as Pushcart Prizes, O. Henry Awards, and the PEN/Nora Magid Award for Excellence in Editing. You must be aware, too, of the incredible list of poets, essayists, and fiction writers who have trusted GR with their work, from titans such as Billy Collins, Rita Dove, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Joyce Carol Oates to emerging superstars such as Lydia Conklin, Esther Lin, and Emily Nemens. Peter, Mark, and Lauren, this is to say, have evinced a keen editorial eye, ensuring Gettysburg Review’s reputation as a literary bellwether, a magazine unmoved by trends but committed as few other magazines are to lasting literary excellence.
“It had to be done,” you will perhaps say. The decision, you will say, was a “cost-cutting measure” to focus on the primary mission of Gettysburg College. Yet for the undergraduates who worked with the magazine, and for those in English and related majors who saw the energy around it, GR has been an integral part of that mission. Beyond the first-hand experience in publishing and literary editing, students at Gettysburg were able to hear readings from esteemed national writers brought to campus under the auspices of Gettysburg Review. You will not, being new to Gettysburg, remember a restaurant called The Blue Parrot, but when I think of those years I recall fondly dinners there with students, faculty, and visiting writers, an experience which few other schools offer to undergraduates. Your ignorance of these advantages, and your radical decision to close GR, reflect profound structural and ideological mismanagement of the College, de-prioritizing literature and the arts in favor of STEM- and business-based disciplines. Moreover, your decision betrays a continuing failure to position the College competitively with respect to peer and regional institutions. Middlebury remains committed to New England Review. Bucknell remains committed to West Branch and to the Stadler Center for Poetry and Literary Arts. Kenyon College remains committed to Kenyon Review. Emerson College remains committed to Ploughshares. These magazines boast the same national reputation that Gettysburg Review does, while the schools themselves have achieved far higher renown than Gettysburg College, an institution with, now, no identity, zero national reputation, and with an apparently adrift administration.
The literary arts are not frivolous, nor is GR ancillary to the mission of the liberal arts college. Among the thousands of submissions to the magazine I read each year, hundreds come from retired lawyers, tech workers, doctors, businesspeople, and other professionals, writers who rather late in their lives have come to the realization that there exists a world beyond money, a “good life,” as the Greeks once called it, of art and culture and of sustained, ruminative thought—and of which these writers had zero experience in their career-oriented educations. Your students will no doubt leave Gettysburg College well-versed in capital asset pricing, electron transport chains, and viral marketing, but at some point they will wonder—as no doubt you have—what it is all for, what it means to watch the leaves shimmer in the light of June or to be in a dinner party with genuine artists or to appreciate the social and political power of language or to construct a sentence which moves through tonal and syntactical ranges one had not thought possible. Gettysburg Review published these sentences, showed us that power, hosted those dinner parties, and brought both local and national attention to the great mystery and beauty in the world around us. I am deeply saddened that the administration fails to see it, and I urge you to reconsider this inappropriate decision.
Department of English
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign