Writing That Flows

Chattahoochee River

Chattahoochee River

Have you read literary magazines? Have you even sent a story, a poem, or an essay to a literary magazine? There are many of them around the country and the world, and they come and go. Some are more than 100 years old, while others spring up with high hopes to print, flash before the world, and die.

The oldest literary magazine here in Atlanta is the Chattahoochee Review, started in 1981 by Lamar York, now retired. After decades as editor, and speaking of how he felt toward the publication, he said, “I had never done anything that gave me the satisfaction that the magazine did.”

Last weekend, I went to North Carolina to spend the weekend with Lamar, who I got to know when I taught at Dekalb College and worked on the Chattahoochee Review. While at Lamar’s remarkable hobbit house, surrounded by a wonderful garden and looking out on the mountains of western North Carolina, I interviewed him about the founding of the magazine for this blog.

The Chattahoochee Review began at what was then called Dekalb College, the only college in Georgia operated by a single county. Since that time, the school has been absorbed by the state system, changed its name to Georgia Perimeter College, and joined Georgia State University.

Had Lamar ever worked on a literary magazine before starting the CR? “No,” he said, “I don’t really know where that came from. I’ve always been fascinated by the essay. I think it was that as much as anything.” Lamar was a serious reader, however, both generally, and of other literary magazines, and he saw them as models for what he wanted to do. In particular, he wanted to have a magazine of essays, reviews, and poetry.

When he began working at Dekalb College, the school had another magazine called the Dekalb Literary Arts Journal. After that editor left, Lamar applied for the position as editor—and did not get it, but the idea of editing a literary magazine had been born.

His opportunity came when the college opened a campus to the north of the city. The head of the new Humanities Department, Carl Griffin, asked Lamar to transfer to the north campus, which Lamar had no interest in. Griffin suggested, however, that on the north campus Lamar could start a new magazine, a motivating enticement. Thus the idea for the Chattahoochee Review originated with Carl Griffin, and Lamar went to the new campus.

Whence the name for the magazine? “I was very conscious of the geographical names,” Lamar said. “Like the Georgia Review or Sewanee Review. I wanted a name like that.” Nevertheless, he started a contest for submissions to name the magazine, with a committee of students and faculty to judge the entries.

As it happened, in spite of the committee, Lamar was still thinking about the name, considering such possibilities as Atlanta Review or Stone Mountain Review, names derieved from the city where the magazine would be located or from the enormous strange boulder to the east of the city. Then one day while driving to Selma, Alabama, to visit his brother, he saw the Chattahoochee River and “Ah!” there it was.

Naturally a project like starting a new magazine, by a person with no experience, would take some curve and learning. Lamar said he had had no idea how to go about running the magazine, including something as basic as how to get manuscripts. In the early days, he said, the magazine “was a pale imitation of the Dekalb Literary Arts Journal”, the other magazine from the college.

As for the money to run the magazine, the Dean suggested at the time that Lamar ask the student government for money, and for five years they gave around $1,000 a year to fund the magazine, until the college took over direct funding. The small-budget magazine was also a work of love for Lamar, because as the editor, he had neither release time from teaching to run the magazine nor a magazine office.

Several years into the project, the college administration decided to close one of the two magazines at the school, the Chattahoochee Review or the Dekalb Literary Arts Journal. At the time, Lamar talked with the other editor, and they decided that they would merge the two magazines together, to be renamed as The Stone Mountain Review. In the end, however, no one ever told Lamar to stop publishing, and the CR continued to live.

I asked Lamar what the reception had been for the magazine, now so well respected. One of the things he really remembered is that he had been astonished by the number of submissions. “I was absolutely swept away by the number of people who wanted to be published,” he said. In later years he would occasionally talk with editors of other magazines who complained about the large number of submissions, but Lamar was always glad that people who could write wanted to be in the magazine. Summarizing his feelings about writers asking to be included, he said, “I loved getting the Chattahoochee’s mail.”

Lamar York has moved on to a house on a ridge looking out over the Blue Ridge mountains, but the The Chattahoochee Review continues to support contemporary literature and accept submissions.

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