plain china is the only national undergraduate literary anthology. Previously housed at Bennington College, the anthology began in the spring of 2009, when faculty and students began seeking submissions from undergraduate journals nationwide. It was the first undergraduate literary anthology to undertake the editing and publishing of selected works from across the United States. The goal was to gather the best writing by American undergraduates each year for publication. Although it was a huge undertaking for the college, the faculty and students were ambitious and eager to get it off the ground and running. Their first publication, which was a web-only publication, was released in the spring of 2010. Since that time, plain china has been included in The Undergraduate Forum for Student Editors (FUSE), has had had included pieces selected for The Atlantic, Best American Non-Required Reading, Best American Essays, and Best of the Net. In the spring of 2015, Godwin officially announced on the plain china blog that the torch would be passed on to VCU, who would be taking over publication of the anthology.
And that is a fiery torch that needs to remain lit, for readers and writers to access. In an email interview with Rebecca Godwin, founder of plain china, she tells the 2016 Managing Editor, Amber Brooks, “Literary anthologies (the O. Henry or the Best American Short Stories/Essays/Poetry series, for example) gather the cream of the literary crop from journals, presenting readers with the opportunity to immerse themselves in a collection of great writing. So, if readers wish to acquire the freshest products of fine and focused literary writing, they should seek out literary journals. If readers seek what is considered the best of the best of writing, searching for a literary anthology published on the web or going to the nearest book store to purchase one may be the best way to get their hands on such a collection.” Claire Boswell, the current faculty editor of plain china, notes that “it’s important to publish literary anthologies because literature is a reflection of the cultural movement at any given time and place. The best literature of one year speaks volumes about the collective mind frame or the cultural zeitgeist of that year.”
For undergraduate writers seeking to carve out a place for themselves in the literary world, the best anthology to be featured in is plain china. From the writer’s standpoint, there is something of great value to be gained from being chosen to be included in a literary anthology publication. Literary journals have been an instrumental gateway to publication for previously unpublished writers. When authors are accepted to be published in literary journals, the editor is notifying them that their work is of value and that it fits nicely with the vision of that particular journal. When the same author is chosen to be included in an anthology, though, they have been compared to other quality writers and selected based on merits which set them apart from their peers. “Publication in an anthology,” says Boswell, “is a different thing from publication in a journal. Publication in an anthology means that your work has been selected as a representative example, something that encapsulates what (something) is all about.” For anthology inclusion, then, a writer must speak to a central theme through the written word. Boswell particularizes to say, “In the case of plain china, we are choosing pieces that represent what we see as the best of the best to be found in undergraduate literary journals.” When an artist of the written word has been chosen to be anthologized repeatedly, that is an honor which is rare and extraordinary. According to Boswell, “A work that has been “heavily anthologized,” then, is something more than a work that’s been published multiple times – it’s something that multiple editors have deemed representative of its genre, its time, its place, etc.” To date, there has been four prize-winning authors chosen from plain china publications to be featured in other prestigious anthologies. The opportunity to be featured in plain china has given these writers recognition in a much broader sense, propelling them further toward future publication possibilities.
The transition from Bennington to VCU was an interesting one. Though the anthology has experienced huge changes, the evolution of the publication housed at VCU has been an incredible experience. With each semester, the editorial staff makes positive and progressive steps forward to present the best publication possible to the readers. There are passionate and motivated editors who fight hard to make sure that superb writers get recognized. While plain china staff believes in the importance of recognizing the roots of our publication, they are also very proud of what they have been able to accomplish for the anthology on their own. Having worked with over 300 individual literary journals from across the nation, the editors of plain china have been able to observe the both the breadth and unique individual talents of undergraduate writers.
As we sit around our table, duking it out for our top picks, we hope that you will enjoy the fruits of our labor. Each piece is considered with great weight. We take our responsibility to present to you the leading undergraduate writers of the country very seriously. But, we also have a lot of fun during the process. We look forward to continuing this important work and hope you will drop by to see us often.
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--Amber Brooks, plain china Editor-in-Chief, 2016