Long and winding road

The Honors College thinks in official terms. Official honors seminars. Official honors-sponsored panels of experts who visit the campus. Even official honors ice cream socials. So it makes sense that the first question the Honors College’s online journal asks potential contributors is:

“Are you an Honors student?”

The meeting of that journal, The Winding Banister Review, seems casual enough at first. Six students and their faculty adviser squeeze around a table in Adele’s, not just collaborators but friends, ready to enjoy dinner while taking care of business.

Then, they start to talk. The response to the second issue has been good. The quality of the submissions has been stellar: The interview with award-winning journalist William Powers; Katherine Chen’s doodle collage; the poetry section overall. But WBR is still new. There is so much more it can do.

They need more meetings. More, shorter meetings. Spending an entire day working on the journal three to four times a semester is not working.

“Well, it’s not an entire day,” clarifies art director Thach Hoang.

“Okay, three to four hours,” editor Samantha Suplee says, rolling her eyes. “A sizable chunk. Still too long.”

They need more content between issues — a new one comes out at the end of each semester. There’s a lot of traffic on the website the week after the staff posts the new issue online, but then the number of visitors drops.

Maybe issues from now on could compile the best-of-the-year submissions instead of releasing all new content, Hoang says. Maybe a few regular contributors can provide interim material on an informal page within the site, says humanities reader Robert Lee Wolfe III. Maybe Kimberly Schubert, the 2010 alumna who wrote that essay in the last issue. Yes, she’s good.

Maybe webmistress (and former Diamondback design editor) Vicky Lai can handle the new section. Yes, she says confidently. She can handle it.

They need more in the science section. Science reader Prachi Bagadia has reached out to the Gemstone program to see if any teams would like to be involved in the journal, but no one has responded yet. Lai thinks publishing opinions on scientific topics might be easier than publishing actual research. Maybe we could post on the Honors listserv, asking what students think about three controversies in science, Bagadia suggests. Then, she pauses. She backtracks.

“I don’t know; I feel like issues that are inherently scientific become oddly personal,” she says. She attempts to shake off the worry. “We can try it.”

They don’t need, but they want to try, producing a hard copy. Winding Banister is supposed to be all interactive and high-tech and exclusively online, but the staffers could bundle the two issues of the year into one package. They could use blurb.com, a website where anyone can create his or her own book. The faculty adviser, Sibbie O’Sullivan, who teaches honors seminars, pulls out a sample, a project that one of her Honors Humanities students completed.

“Look, it’s all bound, and it has photographs.” O’Sullivan displays the little book like it’s the grand prize on Wheel of Fortune. “Nothing fancy, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have something beautiful.”

Yet going print would make the journal more like Stylus. The Winding Banister Review is not Stylus.

“Their website is just for submissions,” Hoang says. “Our website is our journal.”

“We’re all about ideas and creativity,” Suplee says. “We like to have multimedia and literature, current events, random people’s thoughts, weird little categories like ‘Where Are You’ and ‘Under the Radar.’ We like to think it’s broader.”

“And we have videos,” Hoang says.

“Yeah, videos,” Suplee repeats.

“Where Are You” is a section of short musings about where you are mentally and physically and how those relate. “Under the Radar” consists of photographs of the details you miss when you only see what’s in front of you, such as dewdrops and bumblebees pollinating flowers. There are more run-of-the-mill sections, such as the self-explanatory “Doodles” and “Listen Up!,” an opinion section that includes pieces such as Wolfe’s editorial on sex and what it means when you do it with your friends.

The staff adds more whenever inspiration strikes.

But in order to fill all these sections up, it needs more overall submissions, and that means more advertising. Marketing director Elissa Shiau is promoting the journal among alumni on LinkedIn. The entire staff is supposed to post links on their individual Facebook pages.

O’Sullivan asks if anyone has done that yet. They all look guiltily at each other.

“We will,” Suplee says. “Facebook is the way people know about things since no one reads the listserv, which is tragic. It’s knowing how to do it best. We don’t want to pester too much.”

“It’s sort of a chicken and egg situation,” Hoang says. “In order to get more submissions, we need enough submissions.”

“We need people to think it’s legit,” Suplee agrees.

It’s 6:37 p.m., more than an hour since the meeting started. Nobody has touched a menu.


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