By Dr. Corey Van Landingham, Guest Columnist
Dear President Iuliano, Provost Bookwala, and Gettysburg College,
As the news about your shuttering of the Gettysburg Review became public yesterday, I am writing with great dismay and outrage about this decision—a decision revealed, in a bitter irony that may be lost on those outside the humanities, during Banned Books Week.
When I came to Gettysburg College as an Emerging Writer Lecturer in 2015, I knew little about Gettysburg College, but the Gettysburg Review was one of the main reasons I accepted the position. It was one of the first literary journals I had ever read as an undergraduate at Lewis & Clark College in Oregon, one of the few that both my peers and mentors talked about excitedly throughout graduate school at Purdue University, Stanford University, and the University of Cincinnati. When I first walked by the Review’s offices on Washington Street I was filled with a sense of immense pride for being part of a college that housed such an important, wide-reaching, prestigious, and, truly, monumental literary institution. It was not unlike visiting the High Water Mark for the first time, like visiting Lincoln’s Tomb in Springfield, like first seeing the Roman Forum. I felt the weight of proximity to something special, something historical, something that existed before me and would continue to exist after me. You wrote that you “understand the significance of this publication in the broader literary world” but clearly you do not.
You have stated that you need to implement a “more intentional focus” and that your efforts must relate to student demand and experience —but what exactly is your intent? To make the humanities less human? To continue, as other colleges and universities have recently done, bulldozing the arts out of the liberal arts? And how much do you know about the student experience of the coveted internships with the Gettysburg Review? About the import, as a young undergraduate reader and writer, of having a renowned novelist, memoirist, or poet visit your classroom, answer your questions, give readings on campus, sign your books? For the Review doesn’t only bring writing to life on the page—pages that reach across, and outside of, the country, pages that have and continue to contain the nation’s most important writers, pages that consistently feature work that wins the country’s top literary prizes and recognition—but off the page as well. Should you contact alumni, you may learn about how their internships have helped prepare them for careers both within publishing and beyond. Do you know that alumnus Aubrey Kamppila, 2018, works for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) to plan and execute, annually, the largest literary conference in the country? That her email signature is at the bottom of these conference emails that reach over 50,000 people each year? That, should one read her bio on the AWP website, they will see that she mentions both Gettysburg College and her internship with the Gettysburg Review? Have you witnessed the expertise and prowess of Mark Drew and Lauren Hohle, both of whom writers laud for their keen editorial attention, impeccable curation, and professionalism? Have you been in the room when they teach undergraduates both the nuances of copyediting—a skill in high demand across disciplines, and rarely taught—and of reading, discussing, and selecting work of high literary merit? Do you think the ability to recognize great writing does not assist students procuring jobs in marketing, communication, in tech, all of which are searching desperately for “creatives”? If Mark and Lauren lose their jobs, students will lose many skills, soft and hard. Students will lose many job prospects. Students will lose many futures they will not have foreseen.
Like many, I used to feel a great sense of pride for being connected to Gettysburg College. Working as an Associate Editor for the past eight years is a large part of that, but that pride also came from teaching students, from being able to bring the journal and visiting writers into my classroom, from my colleagues, from the great beauty of the campus. Just last night I gave a reading at Bucknell University in celebration of its literary journal West Branch, and I told the audience of my fondness for my time living and teaching in central PA. Indeed, my husband and I got married on the steps of Penn Hall. We wrote books about Gettysburg. We returned for an artist residency on the battlefield. This pride is such that I have been planning on leaving money to both the college and the Review in the future. I imagine you know the college will not be receiving any of this money if you close the Gettysburg Review—I will leave that money to Ninth Letter, the literary journal housed at the University of Illinois, and to a school that values the arts. And I imagine there are many others in my position who feel the same about their monetary commitments.
I hope you can show the Gettysburg College community one of the most important skills we might hope to teach the liberal arts student—the fine art of careful consideration, and, more, of re-consideration. The ability to change one’s mind, to confront difficulty and to problem-solve for the better of the community.
Dr. Corey Van Landingham
Assistant Professor, Department of English
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign