Est. 1918 – And Still Going Strong
Interview by Sandra Buol
Pulp: A Centenary Edition – it must have been a great feeling working on that. Did you have any specific ideas about this edition on how to make it truly special?
Alisha Brown, Publications Director: It has been an absolute privilege to work on the centenary edition of ARNA. Not only is it a huge historical milestone, but Robin and I, the Editors-in-Chief, also had our very first publications in previous editions of the journal. The entire process has been very sentimental for us both, and from the very beginning we set out to honour the colourful legacy of one of Australia’s oldest literary journals.
We wanted to celebrate 100 years of ARNA in three ways. First, by creating a website. We felt that the centenary edition was the perfect opportunity to get with the times and create a digital sister-site to complement the hard copy of the journal. We have been working alongside our Digital Content Coordinator throughout the year to build a gorgeous new webpage that will launch alongside the journal on Friday.
Second, we wanted this edition to reflect upon ARNA’s history, and for that reason we have trawled through Fisher’s Rare Books section and republished a number of archival pieces from previous editions of ARNA. Some, like John Bell’s essay on “Hamlet”, are riveting. Others, such as an anonymous illustration of a student reading ARNA in the shower under “the cold water of our critics”, maintain their sarcastic edge
Finally, we thought that this was the perfect year to branch out from selling ARNA from tiny stalls at USyd Open Days. We are so proud to announce that ARNA 2018 will be stocked at Better Read Than Dead in Newtown. Of course, you can also grab a copy at the launch for $15, or message our Facebook page to meet up with one of the SASS exec on campus.
Pulp: You didn’t go with a theme – was that a deliberate decision to allow for as many submissions as possible?
Alisha: As far as I’m aware, ARNA has always had an open theme, and we wanted to pay homage to this tradition for our centenary year. Open themes are also generally more interesting, in my opinion, and they avoid the cliché of topics that bounce between the broad and the specific like “summer” or “greed”.
Pulp: You had to extend the deadlines for both the editor and the submission callout. Do you think it’s getting harder to engage students for projects like that?
Alisha: Our decision to extend deadlines was a pre-planned marketing choice rather than a desperate move to secure submissions. ARNA is a student journal and, as students ourselves, we are well aware of undergraduate laziness and the tendency toward disorganisation. We extended both deadlines to give potential editors and contributors ample time to apply/submit, given assignment deadlines, work commitments, and the all-important social lives that many of us constantly juggle throughout our studies. We understand that ARNA is not everyone’s priority (although it should be), and we wanted to account for that.
I don’t think it’s getting harder to engage students with creative projects like ARNA. If anything, people are more excited to work with something so hands-on and gain practical editorial experience that they won’t necessarily get during their degrees. In fact, this year we received a record number of submissions, and rejected many more pieces than we accepted. It is a misconception that projects like ARNA are dwindling in the digital age. They are thriving.
Pulp: Looking back on the whole production process: what was the most valuable lesson you learned by editing this edition?
Alisha: The most valuable lesson I learnt from editing ARNA this year was to trust the editorial team. They are smart, and they know what they’re doing. I tend to be a bit of a control freak (my friends reading this will nod vigorously in agreeance) and I have learnt that delegation is the key to success. Micromanaging is not. Every single person on the ARNA team is so intelligent and so skilled and I am eternally grateful for their efforts.
The second most valuable lesson I learnt was not to wait until a day before publication to try and contact Clive James for permission to reprint one of his poems. It will not work.
Pulp: How did the design come to be? The gold and the owl used in your marketing material obviously stand out quite a lot.
Alisha: The gorgeous ARNA cover for this year was designed by Robin. We went with a very minimalist aesthetic, with gold tones celebrating the centenary year. The red petals on the front cover symbolise the Illawarra Flame Tree recently planted in the quad, and the purple blossoms on the back are those of the jacaranda. I think it’s a beautiful way to honour USyd’s legacy while also looking ahead to ARNA’s future, represented by the potential of the young saplings which, one day, will be the focal points of graduates’ Instagram boomerangs.
There is no owl on this year’s cover, but we used an owl in a lot of our marketing material in order to acknowledge the contribution of SASS, whose logo has been an owl for many years.
Pulp: Allow us a little peek inside the journal. Is there an equal balance between prose, poetry and art? Is there a theme that comes up again and again? And would you say that the contributions reflect today’s cultural and political issues?
Alisha: This year we have a relatively equal balance between prose, poetry, and art pieces. There is a lot more photography than fine art, and more prose fiction than essays, but I think this reflects students’ interests more than anything else. We also have a really brilliant video work that will be shown at the launch, as well as a number of archival pieces that I mentioned earlier.
In regard to themes, many of this year’s ARNA pieces reflect upon isolation and disillusionment. Some are funny and flirty. Others are painful. One is dedicated to the Syrian conflict; another to victims of sexual violence; some to Indigenous issues. ARNA 2018 is a wonderfully nuanced read and a testament to the diversity of student creativity.