Pencils down. Manuscripts ready. May the red ink be in your favor, as the reading begins. Mollie Boutell, a former assistant editor for the notorious Onion, is now the woman who stands between your piece and a polished publication in the cream city review’s nationally renowned literary journal. It’s after walking into Boutell’s office at cream city review, that a few things were noted. The abundance of eccentric posters on the walls of past issued literary journals, the countless quotes of published authors, and the shelves upon shelves of books that cocooned the two desks of workspace. Mollie and I sat across from another at a table and our conversation began with a deep sigh and her smiling.
cream city review is a renowned literary journal that has resided at UW-Milwaukee for 40 years. They have contracted work from the late post-modernist author- Ihab Hassan to upcoming rock stars of the industry like Amelia Gray. Lit journals are the foundation for writers early in their career. They are an organization committed to publishing memorable pieces that “push the boundaries of literature.” Receiving submissions from around the world every year they are a growing force to be reckoned with in the industry.
What exactly is the importance of these literary reviews that have been published all over? Why is it literary journals that writers should draw inspiration from or hope to see their name in one day? “Literary Journals are where new writers first become published,” Mollie Boutell said. “For many, before they are a famous writer they are published unknown in a literary journal. The only way to truly know what’s going on in the literary world is to be reading these things,” she said matter-of-factly on the topic.
And how did the door open for Mollie Boutell at cream city review? How did she become a part of this nationally recognized literary journal? “I started out as an assistant editor…and then I became the fiction editor,” She began. “[Looking back,] it was those first decisions as a fiction editor… those first pieces that I read and fell in love with-that I knew had to go in the journal. I felt so excited and proud to be a part of putting it out there in the world. That was definitely a wonderful first moment for me. And then seeing that issue, and those pieces,” She said pulling out something from the shelf behind her: issue 38.1: Return the gift. “Loretta [McCormick] and I were the fiction editors for this one actually. Because we reject the vast majority of what we get in, it’s being able to accept a piece and hear back from an author, especially if it’s their first publication that’s super cool.”
Mollie had quite the journey before grad school at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee… where she never pictured herself to be in the position of managing editor today for the journal. “I always envisioned myself as being involved in the literary world in some way. I did not envision myself writing local interest journals…those were things that were not part of the plan,” she said shaking her head as she began to reminisce. “I actually started writing nonfiction before I finished school, by writing in local publications,” she said as she began recalling her journey in the industry.
“From there I started writing for about.com…writing about event and restaurant reviews. It was really cool because I worked from home and it was self-directed so I had so much freedom.”
As many writers start out, it’s finding those fundamental starting opportunities that open up their career possibilities. Boutell went on to describe one of the major lessons she learned when she first began dipping her toes into the pool of freelance work. “…Pitching. One of the things I found both when I worked as an editor for the Onion and when I was free lancing for Shepard express is that it was super important for anyone who was starting out…to have ideas,” she said nodding her head enthusiastic to say. “I think a lot of people just jump into it like ‘hey I wanna write.’ –but editors don’t have time for that. They want you to come to them with a really great idea.”
The conversation took a turn then, as we began discussing the main differences between the establishments she was a part of early in her career: The Onion and Shepard Express. “When I got hired for The Onion a lot of the work wasn’t glamorous. And that’s what interns even learn here at ccr [cream city review]…it’s those little tasks that keep things running smoothly. At The Onion I was an assistant editor. I was coming up with ideas and finding freelancers. I was not in charge. I wasn’t involved in the production. …Whereas here we’ve got our hands in everything…in all aspects of producing the journal. I think it is both exciting and really scary as our main goal is raising money to keep the journal going and making sure we are putting out a quality issue.”
But what about the harsh lessons this hands on industry beats into so many writers? “I learned the importance of deadlines for sure, and how important it is to keep to those deadlines. And even more so when I started working as an editor,” she said. “You have to be prepared…you have to be ready for the less exciting parts, the stressful parts. It’s not about reading great literature…You’re running a business–directing a lot of people.”
But why devote so much time into something that not many people are crazy about in the business light of things? How does someone know working a literary journal is what their meant to do? “It has to be something you love. Most people aren’t getting rich off it. It is a labor of love,” she said smiling proudly.
Many have said this industry is a dying art form. With so many things changing with technology or the amount of people who do find an interest in creative writing– literary journals like cream city review find it difficult to keep afloat. Regardless, every issue is another chapter to a company’s success story. As it is with cream city review’s next issue, come December: 39.2. “I’m a creative writer, and fiction writer,” she said firmly. “And literary journals are the soul of that world. It’s so important to support other writers…which is one of my favorite things about being involved with ccr. The opportunity to hear other writers out and to help support them.”
Editor in Chief, Loretta McCormick couldn’t be happier to say a few words when asked about her fellow business partner. “I have been working with Mollie for over three years-since I moved to Milwaukee to start the PhD program. In fact, she was the first Grad Student I met or really interacted with, in part because she immediately introduced herself and made me feel like I was part of the community here… Even though working on cream city review is time consuming and challenging, collaborating on ccr with Mollie- first as fiction editors, now as Editor in Chief and Managing Editor- has been the easiest job I’ve had because I can trust her and communicate with her about all aspects of running the journal.”
Web developer of the team Jeremy Carnes also threw in his two cents about her leadership. “Mollie has been invaluable to the operation and management of cream city review. Her ideas have been foundational in making sure that the journal stays up to date, and she continually pushes the journal to be better in every possible way.”
“They work very hard ….I’m really thankful for our team right now. It’s primarily made up of graduate students who are really dedicated …they all have a similar vision of putting out a great journal,” she said in response to the newly rotated staff of volunteers.
For such a big task of running the production of cream city review’s biannual journal, there are many goals Boutell sees coming true during her time in management. “Smoothing out our production schedule, and smoothing out some of our operations. I want to make sure our journal remains high quality as well as see us have more web content. A lot of other journals do it…all the big players have web content. For us, given the nature of our finances I think it’s important for us to expand as well, with the way things are moving. I would like to see our website as more of a destination.”
Due to many budget cuts at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, this journal has seen a few low points financially as they struggle to keep their 40 years going. “We are a nonprofit organization who relies on grants primarily now. Literary journals in general struggle. Any art in general struggles though.”
For many students, cream city review isn’t something they know much about …or any literary journal for that matter. This is where Loretta and Mollie think introducing them is important to a creative writing curriculum. “They should definitely be in creative writing classes. Loretta and I have used it as a text at least once!” she recalled looking back at her course work teaching. There seems to be a bright future ahead for cream city review’s new team and issues to come. Picking up an issue to see what it unfolds will never hurt. It shows a lot of support for the industry as well as Mollie Boutell and her fellow staff’s labor of love.