RM. The worlds have always been interwoven for me, I guess. That’s a good word to use. From writing and printing little stories using a toy printing set with rubber type as a kid, to editing my high school newspaper, working as a writer and layout staff person for weekly and daily newspapers while putting myself through school at the University of Florida, to being a letterpress printer and university editor/publisher today. As an undergrad I switched from a journalism major to an English major, and I got more serious about writing poetry and fiction. I was founding editor of the literary journal Florida Quarterly at the University of Florida and went on to earn my PhD at the University of Virginia, not only because I knew I could study with a great literature faculty there, but also because I could take creative writing workshops with Peter Taylor, who was their writer-in-residence. Some of his longtime friends from college days, Robert Lowell most frequently, would visit from time to time and come into our workshop. During my time there I shifted away from fiction toward poetry. I won an Academy of American Poets prize and began to publish my poetry in little magazines, but I also continued to write fiction, with Peter’s encouragement. I have to say, though, he was especially supportive of my poetry, even though what he saw of it was incidental really, since he was teaching fiction workshops.
Of course, it makes sense that he’d encourage poetry, given his long friendship with Lowell and his marriage to the wonderful poet Eleanor Ross Taylor. In fact there’s a continuation of these good memories made tangible in a collection of short stories we published about a year ago. Through a surprising series of events, we had the chance to publish the first collection of short stories by Jean Ross Justice, a wonderful writer whose work I hadn’t really known until the manuscript was passed along to us by a mutual friend, Robert Dana. Jean’s work had appeared in Esquire, Antioch Review, Yale Review, Shenandoah, The Oxford American, and elsewhere, but these and other stories had never been collected until we brought out her book, The End of a Good Party . It turns out that Jean is the widow of poet Donald Justice. And she is also the sister of Peter Taylor’s wife, the poet Eleanor Ross Taylor. As things unfolded, Peter and Eleanor wound up living in Florida (in Gainesville, at my old alma mater, the University of Florida), as did Donald Justice and Jean, before they moved to Iowa. These interesting, layered connections only slowly dawned on me, after we had already decided to publish the book of Jean’s stories, without any of us having realizing the links . . .
It’s a marvelous literary “full circle” in interesting ways. Again, it seems thoroughly interwoven. Jean’s book would not have happened without some more tight interweaving, through the friendship of two great colleagues here at Tampa who have been consistently involved with Tampa Review, Don Morrill and Lisa Birnbaum, close friends of Robert Dana, who also knew Jean Justice. Lisa has been one of our fiction editors, and she offered to work with Jean as our in-house editor to agree on the final selection of stories and see everything through final page edits. It was a labor of love for all of us—and we’re also proud to have published some of Jean’s stories in Tampa Review.
NA. How would you best describe your press?
RM. Well, I think we’re an unusual mix for a university press. We’re small and a little eccentric. The University of Tampa Press publishes the only hardback literary journal in the U.S., Tampa Review, as well as a scholarly journal, Pinter Review, devoted to the work of the Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter. We’re primarily a literary press with a growing poetry series, but we also publish some regional history titles, books related to nineteenth-century fantasy and supernatural literature, and some devoted to letterpress printing and the arts of the printed book.
Our office is in a National Historic Landmark building, an amazing architectural “folly” capped off with silver minarets, and we’re influenced by this turn-of-the-century Florida resort hotel. We’ve set up an antique letterpress Book Arts Studio and type foundry as a functioning component of the press. We issue some of our books with letterpress or hand-bound components. We’ve hand printed a miniature book of miniature woodcuts by J. J. Lankes, probably best known for his woodcuts for Robert Frost books. We actually have Lankes’s own 1848 Hoe Washington iron hand press here, on which he also printed his woodcut illustrations for books by Frost, Sherwood Anderson, Ellen Glasgow, Robert P. Tristram Coffin, and others. We’ve used it to print broadsides and ephemera, as well as the miniature book. And we publish some books related to nineteenth century fantasy and supernatural literature, and some devoted to letterpress printing and the arts of the printed book. Of course, we publish our poetry series that includes the annual winner of the Tampa Review Prize for Poetry, and we do a limited number of local and regional history titles.
We publish about five or six books annually, plus two issues of Tampa Review. And the Tampa Review Prize for Poetry is an annual contest—with a deadline of December 31 each year.
NA. Do you solicit manuscripts or read unsolicited manuscripts outside of your poetry book contest?
RM.We very rarely solicit manuscripts, and we don’t read unsolicited book manuscripts outside the poetry contest. We simply don’t have the time. We read nearly 500 book-length manuscripts for the Tampa Review Prize, and we are fortunate to receive some terrific work. Our poetry series originates from submissions to that annual contest, and it’s a wonderful experience reading them each year. Sometimes we are able to publish a finalist or two, in addition to the winner. We like to do that when we can, because there are always a number of books in addition to the winner that also deserve to be published—more than we can do! Plus we publish new collections by past winners.
NA. Do you try to publish Florida writers or develop a regional profile?
RM. Our regional and statewide literary community is a lively, active one. We do many things to help foster and sustain it, to be a meaningful part of it. We are founding members of the Florida Literary Arts Coalition that sponsors a writers’ circuit for literary authors to read throughout the state, helped launch the Florida Book Awards, and we have an annual conference, OtherWords, at Flagler College in St. Augustine. So we do hope to develop an even stronger network that recognizes and supports noncommerical literary work. However, we seek to publish the best work we can find, so the mere fact of living and writing in our locale is incidental when it comes to making our publishing decisions. We are happy to be able to publish work by some of our best Florida writers, but one of our slogans is that we try to publish some of the best contemporary visual art and writing “from Florida and the World.” Sometimes we are able to do this in especially meaningful ways, by making connections with artists and writers abroad through Fulbright Fellowship or other international travel by our editors. Sometimes we publish the internationally known writers and artists who have visited the university. We especially enjoy these kinds of connections. They help convey the flavor of Tampa—and Florida more broadly—as something of a hub for writers and artists.
NA. Will you say a few words about some of the books that you have published and that you are planning to publish in the coming year? Maybe provide links to any interviews, reviews, or events that might showcase these authors?
RM. Sarah Maclay has a new book of poetry coming out this spring—her third with us, including her first book, Whore, which won the Tampa Review Prize for Poetry, and a collection of prose poems, The White Bride. Her new book is Music from the Back Room. (You can hear Sarah at Grace Cavalieri's “The Poet and The Poem” webcast: and read Tess Lotta’s interview with her for “Media Cake”: Richard Terrill had already won an AWP Award for nonfiction for Saturday Night in Baoding when we published his first book of poems, Coming Late to Rachminoff, and it went on to win the Minnesota Book Award. We’ve just published his new book, Almost Dark. A poem from his new book was just featured on Poetry Daily in December. Both of them will be signing copies at AWP. Last year’s Tampa Review Prize winner was Christopher Buckley, for Rolling the Bones. We have a new book by Chris coming out in late spring, called The White Shirt. And our newest Tampa Review Prize poet, Dennis Hinrichsen, will have his new book, Rip-tooth, out for National Poetry Month when he’ll come to Florida for a tour, including a reading on our campus.
NA. Has being an editor of the review helped you as a series editor?
RM.Absolutely! For one thing, it led to the collaboration with my colleagues here that enabled the whole poetry series to happen in the first place. Tampa Review is edited by members of the English and Writing faculty. And we made the decision early on that we would judge the TR Prize ourselves. We have wide range of tastes, and it’s led us to a variety of styles and choices for the series, ranging from first books to later books by widely published poets. The editorial brainstorming, discussion of what matters to us in poetry, and the discussions that ensue as we try to make difficult choices about acceptances for the limited space we have in Tampa Review, these are simply invaluable ways of helping create a sense of daily, meaningful involvement with literature—poetry in particular. We draw from this whether we happen to be teaching creative writing or literature or required first-year writing. So the grounding in our talks about submissions and the reasons for our aesthetic tastes and our shared admiration for craftmanship have carried over into our decision-making in reading and selecting complete book manuscripts. Our discussions and debates about the best of this work are rich, deep, and sometimes inspiring.
NA. What are some of your best memories of being an editor?
RM.The best thing about it for me is the sense of literary community and collaboration. There are embedded peak moments of work and conversations with editors over the years that just sparkle in memory: working with our founding editorial assistant, Anita Scharf, to map out the close relationship between visual art and literary art that has become a hallmark of Tampa Review; working through the thematic contours of each issue with nonfiction editor Elizabeth Winston and our current editorial assistant Sean Donnelly in order to write the dust jacket flap copy that helps set a unifying tone for each issue; the year Don Morrill, Martha Serpas, and I were trying to make the final TR Prize selection and we liked two book manuscripts so much that we just couldn’t bear to choose one. We ended up awarding two first-place awards that year and published them both—a second book for Julia B. Levine and the first book for Sarah Maclay—and they’re still among our favorite writers.
NA. Are you going to be at the AWP conference in Washington DC this year? If so, are there some book signings or panels we should know about?
RM.Yes, we are going to be at tables B27 and B28 at the Bookfair in the Marriott Wardman Park. We have signings scheduled for Sarah Maclay and Richard Terrill. Just check the program for times. And we have a group signing by all the UT Press writers attending this year. That’s scheduled for 10 am on Saturday, the day the Book Fair is open to the public.
NA. Is there any other news we should be aware of?
RM. I can answer “yes” to that, too. Last week the Faculty Senate unanimously approved our proposal for a new low-residency MFA in Creative Writing her at UT. Both Tampa Review and the University of Tampa Press will be involved with the program. We’re going to be handing out some information about it at AWP and beginning the search for a program director over the next few weeks. The first residency is set for January 5-14, 2012, and the inaugural faculty includes John Capouya, Erica Dawson, Amy Hill Hearth, Peter Meinke, Don Morrill, Enid Shomer, and yours truly. Of course, we’ll also have some other special guests. It’s something we’re really excited about.
NA. If you had a wish for poets and fiction writers coming up through programs today, what would it be?
RM. Well, there might be two. First, if they have found a supportive community of writers in their workshop program, my wish would be that they find the means not only to sustain that community and those literary friendships over a lifetime, but that they help establish and sustain a similar community when they leave their program, wherever they may find themselves. And, second, that they consciously help to build a literary audience, that they become an active part of that audience. Some of this can be at readings and online, but I still believe in books—in physical books. So part of my second wish is that they make buying and reading one another’s books part of their audience-building--that they read and compare new books by friends to the best books they can find from major commercial publishers, from international publishers, and from smuggled photocopied writings by poets who are being imprisoned or silenced in places near and far. I wish them for themselves and for all of us a continuing life of books, a vibrant, world-class literary life.
Richard Mathews has been a literary editor since founding Florida Quarterly at the University of Florida in 1967. From 1970-1986 he directed the experimental letterpress studio Konglomerati Press and edited Konglomerati magazine. He has edited Tampa Review at the University of Tampa since 1987, where he also is Charles A. Dana Professor of English and director of the University of Tampa Press. His poems have appeared in dozens of periodicals, including Apalachee Quarterly, Assembling, Berkeley Poetry Review, Interstate, Lyric, Poet Lore and Southern Poetry Review, and in his most recent book-length collection, Numbery (Borgo, 1995). His critical books on J. R. R. Tolkien, Anthony Burgess, Brian Aldiss, and William Morris were published in the Milford Series by Borgo Press. His most recent books include Fantasy: the Liberation of Imagination (Routledge, 2002) and .Looking Backward to Nowhere: Two Visions of Utopia, Edward Bellamy and William Morris (University of Tampa Press, 2010).
Nin Andrews received her BA from Hamilton College and her MFA from Vermont College. The recipient of two Ohio Arts Council grants, she is the author of several books including ,The Book of Orgasms, Spontaneous Breasts, Why They Grow Wings, Midlife Crisis with Dick and Jane, Sleeping with Houdini, and Dear Professor, Do You Live in a Vacuum. She also edited Someone Wants to Steal My Name, a book of translations of the French poet, Henri Michaux. Her book, Southern Comfort, is forthcoming from CavanKerry Press.