Xavier Review Journal Celebrates 25 Years in Publication

Volume 25 Number2There have been many stops and starts along the way, to be sure, but with its first post-Katrina issue of out of the door, it seems clear that the Xavier Review has come of age. With this latest issue, which is back-dated to Fall 2005, one of the few remaining journals in the humanities produced by a historically Black college officially celebrates 25 years in publication.

Founded in 1980, Xavier Review has evolved over the years from being a good, yet relatively obscure effort at publishing a continual scholarly literary magazine to a journal that can claim an ever-growing popularity among academics across the country.

One reason for the journal’s increased appeal was the decision, early on, to expand the journal to include not only literature, but also broader categories of the humanities – history, art, music and philosophy. And despite some stops and starts along the way – due mainly to funding and staffing issues – one constant throughout the years has been the quality of the publication, which from the very beginning could boast contributions by such notable authors as the late Alex Haley, Houston Baker, Walker Percy and Ernest Gaines.

Now under the editorial leadership of English professor Dr. Richard Collins, the current issue reflects much of that same character, albeit without the musings of literary legends. In addition to its usual well as its usual array of literary reviews, poems essays and original writings, the latest issue appropriately includes an introductory essay reflecting on the events of the storm and flood.

Its new slick cover – featuring Herbert Kearny’s poignant Katrina art, “We’re Only Sleeping” – signals a significant “ramping up” of the journal’s overall look. Thus, despite the interruption of caused by Hurricane Katrina, the future bodes well for Xavier Review. Submissions are plentiful, subscriptions are growing, and funding is secure thanks to Xavier, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Commission for Catholic Missions.

But that wasn’t always the case. The idea of Xavier producing its own literary journal actually began during the 1960’s when four professors – Rainulf Stelzman, Hamilton Avegno, Sister Maria Consuela, S.B.S., and Dr. Leon Baisier, came together to form what was then known as The Xavier University Studies.  The journal then was short, no more than 40 pages (its contemporary usually runs closer to 100 pages) and its contents – a collection of poems, essays, plays and criticisms – were very much scholarly. Eventually the publication was halted by a lack of funds.

In the early 1970s however, the idea was revisited when Dr. Thomas Bonner (now the Kellogg Endowed Professor of English) and fellow English professor Dr. Margaret Vail wrote a National Endowment for the Arts grant that enabled them to bring in Carl Senna, Glenn Godfrey, and Everette Maddox as writers in residence. A small creative writing program served as the basis for the publishing of a series of literary publications, including Parachute Shop Blues and Aftermath of Invisibility, which were edited by these writers during their summer residencies.

This program published now legendary poet Everette Maddox's “The Thirteen Original Poems”, his first collection. Writer Fatima Shaik published her first poems in Parachute Shop Blues when she was a student at Xavier. Nikkii Giovanni, Hunt Hawkins, Al Young, and Ishmael Reed appeared in the pages of these little books as well.

Finally in 1980, then poet-in-residence, Charles Fort, entered the picture. He and Bonner decided to continue the tradition of publishing a professional journal; however they wanted to broaden the goals of the journal even further to reflect all of the humanities and not just literature. Their vision included articles from professionals and amateurs that reflected the uniqueness of Xavier, New Orleans, African-American culture, the Catholic religion, and the South. Also included were influences from the Caribbean and the Latin American countries that share the Gulf Coast region – themes reflected in the University’s growing Archival collection. After securing critical annual funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and later the Xavier Endowment for the Humanities, the two professors set about creating Xavier Review. The original objective was to publish two issues a year, but shortly after publication began, Fort left XU to direct the creative writing program at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.

Determined to keep the new journal alive, Bonner continued operations alone, but the publication quickly became backlogged. Fortunately his colleague and friend, Robert Skinner, director of the Xavier University Library and himself a writer of some distinction, stepped in to lend some assistance. While trying to catch up on the issues, they realized that things would move much more quickly if they had their own publishing operation. Thus they called upon Lester Sullivan, the University’s archivist, who had previous experience in publishing along with the technical knowledge and access to a MacIntosh computer. Soon after, Raymond Berthelot, Jr., an archives associate, and Patrice Melnick, an English faculty member, also joined the editorial staff.Together the new staff reactivated the long dormant Xavier University Press for the first time in 50 years under t he new name of the Xavier Review Press. The Xavier University Press was best known for publishing The Negro in Louisiana, a master’s thesis by the late alumnus Charles Rousseve in 1937.

Today Xavier is one of only two HBCU’s to have a continual publishing program in the Humanities. Thus far, besides an uninterrupted string of semi-annual issues of Xavier Review, the press has printed such notable publication as the book, Above Ground, a collection of literature reflecting the life and death of southern writers, and its companion, Immortelles, among others. Skinner handles the publication process and business affairs of both the journal and the Press in his role as managing editor.

Collins, who took over editorial duties in 2002 after a brief stint as co-editor, and who has since welcomed Mark Whitaker, another English professor, to the staff, emphasized that although the Xavier Review has gained some recognition across the country, its primary role is still to serve the needs of the Xavier community. Towards that end, he encourages students, faculty and alumni to submit articles so that not only is Xavier recognized for publishing a journal, but that the University is also know for the quality of work produced in that journal.

To obtain a copy of the latest issue of Xavier Review, contact Robert Skinner at rskinner@xula.edu or visit the XU bookstore. A reserved copy can be viewed in the University Library’s first-floor periodical section.