Last week, a UPS deliverer dropped off five boxes at UM’s Liberal Arts building. Tucked inside: 1,000 copies of CutBank, Montana’s only nationally distributed literary journal, launched by William Kittredge in 1973. The 30th anniversary editions are now making their way from Missoula to independent and corporate bookstores across the nation. On March 15, upstairs at the Elks Club, the CutBank staff—all creative writing graduate students of the University of Montana—will present the edition to Missoula. With a live band, silent auction, drinking—it’s the creative writers, let’s face it—and with readings by founder Kittredge, Patricia Goedicke, Ripley Hugo, Tom Crawford, and others, the staff hope to lure locals to help celebrate three decades of producing the magazine.
“It’s a labor of love,” says Jennifer Kocher, editor-in-chief and one of 20 unpaid students on the staff. “You do it because you want to give a forum for other voices.”
But love isn’t the only emotion in play. The staff had been wrestling with their distributor for payment for the previous five years’ biannual editions. When they finally received a mere $97, they fired the distributor. Literary journals do not make much money, but for a journal that was ranked as one of the top 50 literary journals in the nation by fellow lit-purveyors Clockwatch Review, she says, the staff had higher expectations. She signed a contract with Ingram instead.
“The barcode on the front is the exciting thing for us,” says Kocher. It’s an Ingram thing—a sign that CutBank is now carried in Barnes & Noble, Borders, and into Canada.
The contract doubled the journal’s distribution. The staff themselves have signed up 250 libraries and individuals with subscriptions.
This year’s entries—a record 1,000 manila envelopes that piled up in a bin in the CutBank office—included a solicited entry from Padgett Powell, former visiting professor at UM, as well as a gem—an entry from a previously unpublished man in Pennsylvania. Siobhán Scarry, fiction editor, was glad to include Powell’s “really voicey fiction.” What might have been even more gratifying for her, though, was discovering the unpublished writer. When she asked the Pennsylvania man for his bio, he simply sent her his whereabouts—city, state. She e-mailed for more information—what, for instance, do you do in Sinking Springs, Penn., she asked. The man said he was a night janitor at an old folk’s home and had never been published before. She placed the piece close to the front of the journal.
“That’s my best moment at this magazine,” says Scarry, of discovering a new voice. “It’s really nice to give a home for that kind of talent.”