Assay Annual Report: Year 1

It’s hard to believe that Assay’s first year of publication is in the bag, with two spectacular issues forging new paths in nonfiction conversation. We returned from AWP and the panels we heard confirms our mission as a magazine: we’re having these conversations, truly excellent discussions of what our genre is doing, and those conversations need a permanent home. We’re glad to be a part of that work. Here are some of the successes we’re most proud of from this year:

  • Publishing some truly spectacular pieces of literary scholarship, interviews, and pedagogy;
  • Seeing movement across disciplines where nonfiction thrives, from composition to creative writing and beyond;
  • Achieving institutional support and affiliation, as well as inclusion in the MLA Directory of Periodicals;
  • We have heard from many people who have used Assay in their classrooms–and we’re thrilled to hear more stories!

“In Present Tense” Blog:
We activated our blog to support the work of the magazine between issues:

  • We were very excited to have such great participation in our two weekly series, My Favorite Essay to Teach and Wednesday Writers to Read, and we look forward to resuming them in the fall.
    • Given the workload on our social media editor and the pressure on our readership, we will reduce our weekly series to twice a month;
  • We posted guest reports from AWP panels to facilitate the conversation beyond those three days.
    • We anticipate doing this for NonfictioNow in October and expanding to include 4C’s and MLA, where appropriate.
  • Our blog will go on hiatus at the end of May; it will resume at the end of August.

In the Classroom Initiative:
Expanded In the Classroom initiative to support the community of nonfiction writers and teachers.

  • Our syllabi bank is growing and we seek to add to it, especially in the areas of nonfiction-as-literature, literary editing, and pedagogy. We also anticipate making it a searchable database in the future.
  • We are archiving reading lists and topic queries from Facebook and elsewhere;
  • We are collecting lists of nonfictionists from outside the U.S. to better represent the global impact and work in nonfiction.

Best American Essays Project:
Our Assistant Editor, Nick Nelson, continues to work on his data mining project with Best American Essays, which we will release in May 2016. We posted a brief preview of his work last fall on the blog and in the time since, he has expanded his parameters.

  • The information will be free and open to the public (we hope to be able to create a searchable database);
  • We will use this information to create stronger bonds with nonfiction graduate programs, as a venue for student publication, and also with journals;
  • We will use this information to springboard critical discussions in Assay’s pages on:
    • BAE as the standard of the genre and the weight we put on it;
    • BAE in our classrooms;
    • Individual critical explorations of reprinted essays;
    • VIDA-type counts and analysis of gender in BAE.

Looking Ahead: VIDA
However, we are not without room for improvement: In the week before we left for AWP, the newest VIDA counts were released, and we looked back at what we had published and how we envision the next year. At AWP, we attended a session on diversity in literary magazines, which has given us more vocabulary to consider our work. While one of the comments in that panel is that editors only have what they’re sent to work with, and we’re new enough that our submission pool is still small (yet growing!), we clearly need to solicit more diverse voices and do further outreach to writers of color. We also acknowledge that while our gender breakdown is better in the spring issue, we still face a disparity of the writers that our authors are examining. We will make a concerted effort in the next year to better represent the full diversity of voices in nonfiction and specifically solicit diverse voices.

While we have not done a full VIDA-style workup on our pages, here is our breakdown (we considered the writers the authors wrote about as well, though that number is foggy, given the approach various writers took):

  • 1.1 (Fall 2014): we published 8 men; 5 women.
    • Their subjects: 6 men; 3 women
  • 1.2 (Spring 2015): we published 6 men; 11 women
    • Their subjects: 6 men; 2 women

What we published was overwhelmingly white and heteronormative, though we did have a few bright spots of diversity, though not enough.

  • To further address the questions of diversity in nonfiction, we have determined that our Spotlight discussion for our Spring 2016 issues will be about Diversity in Nonfiction.
  • We also looked at the breakdown between new and established voices. We were incredibly proud to publish a significant number of graduate student works, including one for whom we were her first publication. We aspire to continue to seek out new voices.

Trajectory: Year 2 and Beyond:

  • Call for Papers for our 2.1 (Fall 2015) issue. We’re reading now, with a July 1 deadline.
    • Specifically looking to increase the diversity of what we publish, particularly women and writers of color;
    • We’re looking for analysis of writers outside the U.S.;
  • We are planning Year 3 as “A Year of BAE”:
    • Fall 2016 (3.1): we will solicit and publish critical analysis of essays reprinted in BAE and pedagogy articles interrogating the use of BAE in the classroom;
    • Spring 2017 (3.2): our spring roundtable will interrogate and analyze the purpose, role, and impact of BAE in nonfiction.
  • Further outreach to journals publishing nonfiction;
  • Further outreach to nonfiction graduate programs, as a resource and a venue for student publications.


Thank you all for being a part of our first year, from submitting work to the issue to submitting work to the blog, guest posting at AWP to just telling somebody about us. We couldn’t do it without you!

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