By Dr. Hugh J. Martin, Guest Columnist
Dear President Iuliano, Provost Bookwala, and Gettysburg College,
In 2005, briefly after I returned from a deployment to Iraq with the U.S. Army, I found myself in southern Ohio, sitting in the Muskingum College library reading from a journal that I’d pulled off the shelves. As a twenty-one-year-old from Cleveland with only a few years of experience serving in the military, it was both shocking yet heartening to hold a journal dedicated to a phrase that I did not know then but would soon learn: the arts. I didn’t, like many young American boys brought up on a steady “masculine” diet of sport worship, know that art—poetry, essays, photos, fiction—was alive, thriving, and most of all, being produced at that moment by so many American artists across the country. During my four years at Muskingum—this was pre-WiFi, pre-smart phone—I would return to that library and read from many journals on those shelves, but my favorite was always The Gettysburg Review. In those pages, I discovered names like Reginald Shepherd, Joyce Carol Oates, Donald Hall, Naeem Murr, Natasha Saje, Billy Collins—I could go on. Not only did the journal introduce me to many authors I would continute to read up until today, but it also—more significantly—suggested that America was much more than a landscape where professional athlete is the primary purpose and goal of all young men. GR communicated to me that writing itself and all that comes with it—reading, of course, and publishing, journalism, along with the communities and dialogues that occur only because of journals like GR—was a noble, meaningful, rewarding, and endlessly satisfying pursuit always rife with challenges, discovery, and the eternal conversation between people. Journals like GR led me, eventually, to write about my experiences in the war and, ultimately, to the teaching of literature—and literature, really, begins on the pages of, as they call them, “zines” such as GR.
On a writing fellowship at Stanford I was elated, in 2014, to receive a call from the Gettysburg College English Department that I’d been selected as the Emerging Writer Lecturer. Truly, the major reason I had applied to the position had to do with my love for and knowledge of The Gettysburg Review. When I lived in Gettysburg and taught in the English Department, I also worked as a reader for GR and frequently used the journal in my courses; I taught students that writing and literature is not some static, antiquated act done in private, but a living, dynamic, vitalizing force that drives dialogue not only about contemporary American life, but human existence, in general. This is why, for example, you can go and skim any “Table of Contents” from the Best American series— essays, poetry, fiction—and frequently see, beneath titles of works, The Gettysburg Review. The journal is respected internationally and it’s proven to be a foundational working space for many of the most important writers of the past four decades. To end it is a loss. End stop. The college’s reputation and standing will never be the same. Beyond the opportunities and exposure it gives to Gettysburg College students, it also showcases to the American literary scene that Gettysburg College is a space where writing, creativity, and the importance of language is nurtured, respected, and practiced. As to how it benefits Gettysburg College students more specifically—not just during but long after they’ve graduated—I will leave that to my colleague (we also worked together at Gettysburg and GR), Prof. Corey Van Landingham, who wrote a letter here.
As a professor at the United States Air Force Academy, when I teach cadets literature and writing, it’s tragic that I will no longer be able to point them to The Gettysburg Review as a place to go for art, inspiration, dialogue, a place to find and experience voices, new and old. Since Peter Stitt—we had lunch together, a few years before his death, at Ping’s—started the journal in 1988, the mere mention of the journal has become metonymous for the highest quality and standard of writing in America today. Often, at American writing conferences and readings and literary events, someone will casually mention, I read Gettysburg or Submit to Gettysburg or I love Gettysburg. They’re not talking, of course, about the town or the college. And eventually, if this decision stands, no one will have any idea what they’re talking about.
Hugh J. Martin, Ph.D
Assistant Professor of English
Poetry Editor, War, Literature & the Arts
Department of English and Fine Arts
United States Air Force Academy