Grassroots Literary Journal Joins Eau Claire's Thriving Literary Scene

Hannah Mumm, photos by Andrea Paulseth

STREET TEAM. The group behind the new literary journal Barstow & Grand includes, left to right, poetry editor Kate Hinnant; consulting editor B.J. Hollars; editor Eric Rasmussen; and prose editor Charlotte Kupsh.
STREET TEAM. The group behind the new literary journal Barstow & Grand includes, left to right, poetry editor Kate Hinnant; consulting editor B.J. Hollars; editor Eric Rasmussen; and prose editor Charlotte Kupsh.

Awhile back, Eric Rasmussen and some friends were sitting on the deck, throwing out potential names for an Eau Claire literary magazine. None of them – even the Justin Vernon-inspired “The Falsetto Woodsman” – made the cut, but that summer night planted the idea that would grow to become the Valley’s first literary journal.

Rasmussen’s wife, Arwen, came up with Barstow & Grand, a title that encapsulates Eau Claire’s humble beginnings and subsequent creative expansion.

“Eau Claire has very blue-collar roots,” said Rasmussen, an Eau Claire writer, educator, and the journal’s founder. “Now, we’re building towards something grand and artistic.” 

The Chippewa Valley literary scene evolved from Midwest bar culture. Barstow and Grand, two streets that intersect the heart of downtown Eau Claire, speak to the creative potential behind the city’s simple small-town origins.

That potential has been harnessed by local artists and innovators over the past several years. Eau Claire is a hub for small-business owners. Downtown is peppered with independent eateries, start-ups, and shops filled with locally sourced goods. Thanks in part to Bon Iver, the Valley’s music scene has earned an international reputation. The annual Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival brings in tens of thousands of music fans from across the globe. As the arts scene continued to grow, a literary community emerged.

The Chippewa Valley Writer’s Guild was born last year. The nonprofit – founded by local author and UW-Eau Claire English professor B.J. Hollars – was started to support the writers pouring into Eau Claire and the authors who were born and raised here. Following the success of free craft talks and readings, Rasmussen saw an opportunity to help local writers take the next step: publishing.

Communities of writers from senior citizens to Christians and more already existed. Despite bountiful opportunities to hone their craft, there were few outlets through which authors and poets could share their work with the community. Barstow & Grand changes all that.

“We want to help our writers by giving them a professional opportunity, a legitimate publication credit in a print journal that has gone through the reader process,” he said.

The submission process will rival that of any legitimate literary journal. Writers will need to have their pieces in tip-top shape. That includes industry-standard format, something many people who are new to publishing are often unaware of. During the submission period, the journal will periodically post formatting and submission tips on its Facebook page. Rasmussen hopes to host informational Q&A panels with his staff prior to publishing future journals.

As submissions roll in (between March and April for this year’s issue), the Barstow & Grand selection teams will read each piece. The teams are composed of one editor and three readers each – one team for poetry and another for prose. Readers will select the best prose and poetry and send it to their editors. From that pool, the editors will pick the content that will appear in the journal and work with the authors on edits and revisions.

Maintaining a connection to the Chippewa Valley is the journal’s primary goal. Rasmussen’s volunteer team is 100 percent local. Many are affiliated with the university and all are members of the Chippewa Valley Writer’s Guild. With each submission, writers are required to attach a short note describing how their experience is linked to the Valley. That’s not to say Barstow & Grand will be limited to Eau Claire natives. People with any connection to the area – Eau Claire lifers, UWEC alumni, and one-time Eaux Claires festival-goers alike – are welcome to contribute.

“We want to be as inclusive as possible while still maintaining status as a local publication,” Rasmussen said.

The journal is not only open to a diversity of contributors, but also a diversity of genres. Rasmussen and his team are not looking for any specific themes or forms. They are open to any literary genre, from sci-fi to nonfiction to more traditional literary fiction. Poets need not adhere to any style or school. Even cross-genre and hybrid pieces are welcome. The team at Barstow & Grand aims to create a stylistic collage wholly representative of the Valley’s literary community.

The revenue generated through submission fees and journal sales will directly benefit the Eau Claire literary community. One hundred percent of net proceeds will be donated to the Writer’s Guild to continue funding free craft talks, readings, and resources for local writers.

This year, Rasmussen will focus on making the journal an institution in the Chippewa Valley. When it comes to print this fall, the Writer’s Guild will host a release party and readings around town to celebrate contributors. The journal will be available at the Local Store and other Eau Claire retailers. Rasmussen hopes to connect with the Eau Claire Downtown Farmers Market, the Eaux Claires fest, and other Wisconsin publications to promote future journals statewide.

Learn more about Barstow & Grand at barstowandgrand.com.

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