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Thursday, December 11, 2014


A look at the latest literary journal in Utah

Posted By on December 11, 2014, 5:45 PM

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While Utah has a fine share of writers and poets, we're shockingly low on literary journals and annual publications. That's not to say we don't have any, in fact titles like Sugar House Review have grown to be a must-own books every time they're released, but the truth is that many writers self-publish their works or turn them into zines that you'll find at  local coffee shops. Last year, a group of writers got together to form Saltfront, a small publishing group that has created two compilations of works from local writers, consisting of poetry and stories spanning across several genres. Today, we chat with four members of the editorial team behind the publication to talk about how they got together and published these works, as well as how they accept submissions and looking ahead to the next journal. (All pictures courtesy of Saltfront.)

Eric Roberson, Jesse D. Peterson, Michael McLane & Julia Pace
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Gavin: Hey guys, first thing, tell us a little bit about yourselves.

I’m a Salt Lake native. My background is in poetry. I run literary programming for Utah Humanities and act as the director for the Utah Humanities Book Festival. I’ve worked for several literary nonprofits and literary magazines inside and outside of Utah, so in addition to editorial duties, I do a lot of networking and marketing for the journal.

Eric: I am a professor of Humanities at Utah Valley University.

Jesse: Julia is a transplant from Toronto, Canada. She manages conservation properties with Utah Open Lands. She runs a good portion of Saltfront business stuff along with her editorial and creative input. She basically holds everything together. Without her, we would not be where we are today. This is true of everyone, really. I focus on design and editorial, mostly. I write in my spare time and work doing land management and conservation for Salt Lake City as well as teach writing to undergraduates.


Gavin: How did each of you first take an interest in writing, and what were some of your favorite things to read?

I had a remarkable creative-writing teacher at Brighton High, Pat Russell, who remains a great influence in my life. I also grew up around a group of poets and writers who were the backbone of the City Art reading series here in town. The group and the writers they bring in pretty much span the spectrum of contemporary writing. I read mostly poetry and history, but right now I’m reading Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert and Rebecca Lindenberg’s The Logan Notebooks, both of which I highly recommend.

Jesse: I wrote two books in elementary school: The first was about angelic fireflies and the second was a biopic on a character with schizophrenia. My teacher was also very encouraging, and the rest has been downhill since then. The last book I finished was Yi Fu Tuan's Religion: From Place to Placelessness, and I'm currently reading Robinson Jeffers' The Woman at Point Sur.

Eric: I got the writing bug in college, while bumbling through a mid-life crisis at the University of Utah. I'm now writing a children's book about my pit bulls, Peggy and Mona, and am reading Meeting the Universe Halfway by ecocritic Karen Barad, which is an exploration of the philosophy of quantum physics.

Julia: In my senior year of high school, I had some poetry of mine published through a Writer’s Craft class—the poem I wrote was about a murdered woman. But I really became infatuated with writing while taking an American Lit class during my second year at the University of Toronto. I’m currently in the middle of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations.

Gavin: What was the major catalyst that got each of you involved with writing and publishing?

The contextualized circumstance of being human. I'm not aware of other animals engaged in these specific modes of communication. This is how I see it: writing is a struggle, modes of deciphering the various ways of being. Publishing writing, therefore, is the attempt to make permissible our circumstance, to build shared experience and not to understand it. Attention needs application to the different ways humans position themselves in time to the non-human (and vice versa). Without context, whatever gets produced is solipsistic. So, in short, being a teenager and then moving beyond that into adulthood.

Michael: In addition to the influence of teachers and local writers, I had the opportunity early on to teach, both in schools and for writing conferences, which taught me more about writing than anything else. Lance Olsen, a remarkable professor and author at the University of Utah, talks about the need for writers to be literary activists first and then writers—promote others’ work, publish others’ work, be part of a larger literary conversation. He articulates it far better than I’ve ever been able to, but being surrounded by such generous writers growing up, it was something I sort of intuited early on. It’s what led me to publishing and to my job.

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Gavin: How did all of you meet each other and become friends?

We all met while studying at the University of Utah in the environmental humanities (EH) graduate program. There, we realized this new field of study had no organized and dedicated journal where environmental writing and science studies were combined in purely lyrical ways. During such a complex moment in human history, we saw the need to merge the creative mind with scientific disciplines. We want to encourage science scholarship to be more lyrical and creative writing be more scientific.

Jesse: Our friendship really solidified through working together on Saltfront. Our common commitment to writing, art and inquiry is what binds us.

Gavin: When did the idea come about to start a literary journal, and where did the name Saltfront come from?

I've always been interested in artistic movements and communities, and it hasn't been that long since Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine started The Dark Mountain Project with the Uncivilisation Manifesto. They are the Sex Pistols to our Ramones. So, basically, I wanted to formalize this school of thought in America and produce a venue for us. I knew Eric was the person to talk to, and I told him my idea in a parking lot. Mike and Julia came on board immediately. We've been running ever since.

Eric: We started this journal to open up a forum to academics, graduate students, high school kids, moms and dads, politicians, activists, pessimists, hermits, riffraff and any other human creature caught in this ecological maelstrom. We have published academics like Andy Hoffman and Sylvia Torti, national figures like Terry Tempest Williams and Jack Turner, graduate students and any other human being who's got something to say about our physical environments and who says it in an unconventional way.

Jesse: I'd like to think that Saltfront is starting something new that hasn't been done exactly in the same way, and our ambition is to engage and promote a renaissance of new action that established publications and organizations like Orion and the Sierra Club are having to adapt to. We represent neither old guard nor new age environmentalism. ("Environmentalism" is so void of meaning nowadays that the term itself is ineffectual.) We respectfully reject the anthropocentric even as we know we cannot escape the anthropogenic.

Eric: The name Saltfront was conceived in the basement of The Beerhive in between any number of pints of various Utah microbrews. The name merges salt, respectfully acknowledging our watery mother to the west and front, the Wasatch Front. But beyond that possibly over-wrought cleverness, it also refers to that liminal space created where salt and fresh water merge. This is an ecotone, a place of transformation and uncertainty and a site of struggle between discrete ecosystems. So a Saltfront is the perfect metaphor to describe the type of writing we aspire to and want to publish.

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Gavin: What was it like coming together as a group and planning out the first book?

We basically invited everyone we knew for this effort and started with something like 11 people. Before we began the first issue, we tackled ourselves and took a hard look at what was important to us. We developed some guidelines to orient our intentions and efforts; we've called these guidelines our "Bearings and Positions" which you can see online at It says things like, "We view unchecked growth of all kinds as chronic forms of social and cultural malnutrition," and "We aspire to creative lives amidst the shared realities of death, failure, fragment, uncertainty, mediocrity and birth.

Gavin: How did you go about taking submissions and how challenging was it picking what to put in the book?

For our first issue, we took submissions and tried to get the word out to many of Utah's well-known writers. It worked. Jeff Metcalf and Maximilian Werner were among those who submitted, for which we're very grateful. Much of the issue is populated with our fellow graduates from the EH program, and we hope that presence will remain strong in every issue.

Jesse: Our focus is really broad but narrow at the same time, so it's fairly easy to tell which authors get what we're doing and those which don't—but we've gotten some sleeper pieces that have surprised us. For me, selecting what goes in the book is much easier than figuring out where each submission goes.

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Gavin: What was it like publishing the first book and what was the public reaction to it?

The reaction to that first issue was very positive among our colleagues and those working in the field of environmental studies.

Jesse: The general public's reaction was really favorable as well. We got lots of comments on the quality of the book and its design. We were offered distribution by a reputable press but have decided to go rogue until our idealism withers under market pressures. We had two positive reviews for the first issue—one by Catalyst and the other by SLUG Magazine. You can also access those online through the website. 

Michael: As with many start-up journals, getting a public readership is still one of our main concerns. We do have copies in many of the local bookstores, King's English, Sam Weller and Ken Sanders, as well as some copies in stores in Colorado and Oregon. But we are certainly looking to expand that readership. So check us out.

Gavin: Did you know you'd be back to make a second right away or was there some doubts before going ahead?

Publishing the second issue was easier as we had an infusion of grant money and some exciting projects that weren't really tied to the journal. An art installation of ours was featured at the Utah Museum of Fine Art during its Lunchtime Discussion Series "Exploring Sustainability."

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Gavin: What would you say is the biggest things that separates you from other journals, like Sugar House Review?

We are unique among journals of this kind because we publish many different literary forms. Poetry, prose essays, lyric essays, fiction and non-fiction, flash fiction, e-mails, famous quotes, photos and photo essays.

Jesse: Because one of our main focuses is establishing a community of voices for engaged living, we try to stretch the boundaries of how and what to publish as well as seek out other local projects that speak to our minds and hearts. We're constantly on the lookout to extend beyond the idea of a literary journal ... our next issue should have a unique, detachable keepsake.

Gavin: You published your second book in summer 2014, how was it putting this one together compared to the first?

In a lot of ways, it came easier since we had already been through the process once. However, dealing with open submissions is a completely different animal from what we were doing in the first issue. In our second issue, we also want to play with some unconventional forms for a journal of this kind. We published the fourth issue of the zine, The Fifth Goal, created by the late, brilliant Blake Donner and curated by his friend Travis Low. We also worked with (and hope to keep working with) Low and his filmmaking partner Torben Bjornsen to promote their remarkable independent short films. We many to pursue of these kinds of collaboration going forward. We'll take any literary or visual art that addresses our shared human experience, particularly what we do with our bodies, our homes, and our cities. Environmentalism is a term badly battered and in need of fresh voices exploring how we can creatively change human habits and habitats.


Gavin: For those who are interested in submitting to the next book, what must they do?

We have an open submissions policy. All submissions for issue 4 can be sent to us via Sample work and our "Bearings and Positions" can be found at our website Folks can also buy issues No. 1 and No. 2 from local bookstores or order them directly from us via the website to see if their writing fits our literary ethos.

Gavin: Are there any other projects you have in mind for the future, or mainly publishing journals for now?

We've been mulling over some ideas: collaborative art performance through public engagement, localized partnerships and investigative storytelling, other one-of-kind publications like our Terry Tempest Williams' Broadsides (on sale now), etc.

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Gavin: What can we expect from all of you and Saltfront over the rest of the year and going into 2015?

Coming up, we hope to publish a poetry chapbook as well as publish our own work. Mike's Postcards from Fire, printed in our first issue, will be reprinted in High Country News in January. Jesse's latest work can be found in the online journal, and my creative work was published in Dark Mountain issue #4. Julia will be saving Utah's open spaces one acre at a time.

Jesse: We'll have an official presence at AWP 2015, so come visit us and say hello.

Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?

We are offering some holiday specials. Issues 1 through 3 for $30. Any two issues for $20. Yearly subscriptions are $22 (2 issues per year). We also have Broadsides signed by Terry Tempest Williams for a $50 donation to Saltfront. All of these can be viewed and purchased from our website.

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