New Local Literary Journal Highlights Valley Writing Community

Lauren Fisher, photos by Andrea Paulseth

THEY’VE GOT THE WRITE STUFF. The team behind Barstow & Grand, a new Eau Claire-based literary journal, includes (clockwise from lower left) Kate Hinnant, B.J. Hollars, Eric Rasmussen, and Charlotte Kupsh.
THEY’VE GOT THE WRITE STUFF. The team behind Barstow & Grand, a new Eau Claire-based literary journal, includes (clockwise from lower left) Kate Hinnant, B.J. Hollars, Eric Rasmussen, and Charlotte Kupsh.

Eric Rasmussen, the muscle and hustle behind soon-to-be-released Eau Claire literary journal Barstow & Grand, has the focused, mile-a-minute energy of a writer swiftly approaching a deadline. “People told me it would be way more work than I thought it would be, way more stress than I thought it would be, so I girded myself early,” he said of organizing the collection, which will be released at an inaugural reading during the Chippewa Valley Book Festival on Oct. 26.

The first issue of Barstow & Grand features 27 poetry, fiction, and nonfiction submissions by 24 authors who all have a personal connection to the Chippewa Valley. Contributors were prompted to submit a brief of 100 words or fewer describing that connection, big or small.  Some have lived here for years or lifetimes, while others simply passed through. One contributor, who hails from Oregon, wrote that she had visited the Leinenkugel Brewing Co. in Chippewa Falls three times, and keeps her refrigerator stocked with Bavarian Dunkel and Creamy Dark. What constitutes a community of writers, according to Rasmussen, was challenged and redefined by the body of work reviewed for publication.

“We’re including everyone who loves, lives in, or just knows about the area,” said Charlotte Kupsh, one of Barstow & Grand’s prose editors. “We’re keeping our focus strongly rooted in our community, but we’re also extending an invitation to join that community to anyone who wants to be a part of it.”

The idea of a local literary journal was born just over a year ago on Rasmussen’s back deck during a discussion over beers between friends. Since then it has grown and gained purpose.  Rasmussen envisioned a way to give local writers experience in publishing their work: He refers to it as “professionalizing” the community.

“We’ve got this great incubator to get things started, but nothing to show them the grim reality,” Rasmussen said. He has been writing manuscripts and short fiction for years, but when he began to work toward publication, he found himself unprepared. “Writing is personal, uplifting, helpful, and publishing is the exact opposite,” he said.

So he set out to make the submission and selection process for Barstow & Grand an exercise in professional writing. His intent was to have the same standards as other literary journals, but with a warmer, more constructive touch that encourages writers to continue working, rather than leaving them downhearted after a rejection. The committee required submissions to be formatted to their specifications, and wrote personalized acceptance and rejection letters to each author.

“One of the things I was most interested in is that it was a magazine that was nurturing to writers of all levels,” said B.J. Hollars, a local author and founder of the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild (CVWG). Hollars has been involved with Barstow & Grand since its inception; he is credited as “consulting editor.” He and Rasmussen share the sentiment that if submission to this journal is to be a writer’s first experience, it will be a positive one.

The perception of exclusivity was also a concern for the journal organizers.  “Of course, not all writers have a place in every magazine,” Hollars said, “but just submitting is a major step of being part of the writing community.”

The Barstow & Grand curating team is made up eight other local authors, teachers, students, and GVWG members, all of whom are volunteers. Kate Hinnant and Charlotte Kupsh round out the editing trio while Katie Venit, Karen Olson, Yia Lor, Thain Irwin, Han Carroll, and Jodie Arnold served as readers for the 269 submissions.

Eau Claire Printing will produce 400 copies of the journal for publication.  These will be sold on the Barstow & Grand website, at The Local Store, and at CVWG events throughout the year. Proceeds from journal sales will be used for next year’s publication (the goal is that Barstow & Grand will be anual) and to support CVWG. The guild, in turn, will promote the journal and encourage writers to submit work as the opportunity arises.

Rasmussen will not measure the success of the journal in sales or dollars.  “If we get more and higher quality submissions with each subsequent issue, then we’ve arrived,” he said.

Barstow & Grand stands to offer opportunity for personal growth as well as community growth. Being published locally means featured poet Lopamurda Basu, whose entry describes imagining a Midwestern winter as a child in India, has a chance to receive immediate feedback from locals. Though she has considered herself somewhat of a nomad, being part of a growing literary community has given her a greater feeling of belonging in Eau Claire. “Now I think I have a sense of growing roots in this town,” she said.

Eau Claire has earned recognition for fostering rich music and visual art communities, but not for its writers, Ash Lee, another featured poet said. “This journal is a way for people who already know Eau Claire and the Chippewa Valley as an arts community to start thinking of it as a literary community as well.”

The debut reading for Barstow & Grand will be at 7pm on Thursday, Oct. 26, at The Volume One Gallery, 205 N. Dewey St., Eau Claire.  The next submission period for the annual journal will take place spring 2018.