Prairie Schooner managing editor: ‘Edit what you love to read’
By Julia Jackson
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
The title of “managing editor” can be deceiving. As managing editor of Prairie Schooner, Marianne Kunkel spends a lot of her time doing more than editing.
In an interview, she talked about the challenges and rewards of her job at the national literary quarterly of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“There’s a lot of multitasking,” she said. “I wear a lot of different hats.”
The Alabama native obtained a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Florida before coming to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Kunkel had a number of different internships for publications, including the University Press of Florida, and editing jobs before landing a gig at Prairie Schooner in 2011.
“As an editorial intern at university presses I was given jobs,” she said “I was given assignments, and that was really what I had to do for the day.”
Now, Kunkel does many things including supervising interns. She works closely with Kwame Dawes, the quarterly’s editor-in-chief.
“It’s challenging to sit with [Dawes] in meetings and have the confidence to talk about the merit of certain poems or stories or essays that we’re getting, but he’s very interested and encouraging in developing my editorial eye.”
Although Dawes has the final decision on what pieces get published in the journal, Kunkel and others view the submissions first.
The process works like this: The pieces are given a first read by the graduate students at Prairie Schooner. Next, senior readers give a second read and either reject or accept pieces to be passed along to Dawes, who decides what gets published.
“I like to think Kwame’s picking from a menu and the senior readers are like the chefs who decide what goes on that menu,” Kunkel said. “It seems like Kwame or I may have a lot of power, but really we’re just ordering the best thing that the restaurant has to offer.”
One of her biggest challenges as managing editor is having the confidence to assert her authority over her co-workers.
“That can be awkward, just in terms of authority, being a younger woman it can be hard to [manage] an older male graduate student.”
But she hasn’t let that stop her from doing her job. Kunkel said she’s learned to take cues on how her peers want to be managed and found it helps her better communicate with her staff.
“You learn what works and what doesn’t.”
And Kunkel seems to have that figured out; she often paused to say hi or goodbye to coming and going staff.
One of the reasons that Kunkel is so good at what she does is because she’s familiar with the type of writing that gets sent to the publication.
“When I got a job working for trade publications before I came here, it wasn’t fulfilling enough. I wasn’t getting to edit the things that I enjoy reading anyway.”
Kunkel says she wishes someone would’ve told her early on to edit what you love to read.
“If you can find an editing job in which you’re reading something that really seems to speak back to your goals as a writer, it will always nourish and validate your aspirations as a creator.”
And she recognized the importance of editing no matter what genre of writing is being viewed.
“The rules still count.”
In terms of editing poetry, Kunkel explained that it’s important to be able to recognize what’s intentional in terms of style, but other things are still fair game. “Things like consistency, things like format, clarity, that’s very important. Poets don’t know all the rules and do need editing.”
When asked about what advice she would give to journalism students, she joked, “Become English majors.”
“No, but don’t think that if you enjoy reading poems, novels, whatever, that there isn’t a place there for you as well.”