Student Spotlight: Caitlin Wilson

February 7, 2020

Caitlin Wilson is the 2019-2020 lead associate editor of Blackbird: an online journal for literature and the arts and in her second year of the M.F.A. program for poetry.

Can you tell us a little about yourself? What led you to join the M.F.A. program at VCU?

Caitlin Wilson standing in front of Anderson House and holding a puppet of a crowI grew up near Annapolis, Maryland and completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Maryland, College Park. Writing was always a creative outlet for me, but once I took an intro to creative writing course as a freshman in college, I knew I wanted to pursue it more seriously. One workshop led to another, and I joined the Jiménez-Porter Writer’s House at UMD. The community aspect of writing is so enriching, and an M.F.A. in poetry at VCU offered me that plus a chance to hone my craft.

Can you tell us a little bit about Blackbird? What drew you to work for the online literary journal?

Blackbird is an online journal of literature and art at VCU. It has evolved its long history to include student editors and the Blackbird internship, hosted right here in Hibbs Hall. The journal publishes poetry, prose, and art on an international scale. I previously worked as an editor-in-chief for the undergraduate literary journal Stylus at the University of Maryland, College Park. That, plus other publishing-related jobs at Rowman & Littlefield, the National Weather Service, and the Greater Richmond Partnership (all in addition to my love for creative writing), made it a natural decision to work with Blackbird.

What has the role of lead associate editor of Blackbird been like?

It’s been an amazing opportunity to engage with a literary journal in new ways. I handle communications between contributors, editors, and interns. It’s a high-energy role since there are many moving parts in the publishing process—something new happens daily. The internship offered at Blackbird also means production is collaborative and student-oriented, so it’s been great to engage with the students who join us each semester.

What have you learned about editing and publishing through your position and involvement with Blackbird? Have you learned anything surprising or noticed anything unexpected about submissions or your process?

While much of the process was already familiar to me, Blackbird is a larger journal than the one I previously worked with, so I’ve certainly learned more about a journal operating at the scale of Blackbird. As a writer myself, I better appreciate the need for patience when submitting to journals or awaiting publication; there’s a lot going on behind-the-scenes at a university journal that affects the publication timeline! I also better understand that when a journal is receiving thousands of submissions each year, making a submission stand out can be a challenge. A rejection also doesn’t mean a submission was bad; it just wasn’t the right time.

Do you think your role as lead associate editor has had any influence on your own writing?

Engaging in conversation at the senior editor’s table and issuing acceptances and encouragement, I would have thought I’d feel more competitive about writing, but I more firmly believe in just doing my own thing well. That, more than anything, helps you stand out and keeps your work authentic.

What is the Rebecca Mitchell Tarumoto Short Fiction Prize?

Every two years, Blackbird awards the Tarumoto Short Fiction Prize to a work of short fiction published in the journal. It’s sponsored by the family of Rebecca Mitchell Tarumoto to honor her devotion to the art of writing fiction, to expand the audience for outstanding short stories, and to encourage literary excellence among writers early in their careers. It is also always open to donations from those who would also like to support the art of fiction through the prize. More info about the prize can be found in our latest issue of Blackbird.

What is the selection process like for the Tarumoto Prize?

Blackbird initially selects fiction pieces that were published over a two-year period by writers with emerging careers. This can be difficult since we think highly of every story we choose to publish. We narrow down the nominees through a thorough reading process involving our graduate and undergraduate interns and the senior editors.

What drew you to Emily Nemens’s winning story, “After Incus”? (from the Spring 2018 issue)

During our considerations, every reader of Emily Nemens’s story “After Incus,” remarked on the depth of authenticity in its historical and social setting. The characters are dimensional and flawlessly constructed, which makes for a captivating narrative. It is focused on the extinction of the passenger pigeon, is set at the dawn of WWI. It’s told from the perspective of a young Bosnian ornithologist as he recounts his trip to the US and the attempts to prevent an extinction. It is a poignant, graceful piece that is richly appointed with details and tenderness.

Nemens will receive the award at Virginia Commonwealth University on Thursday, February 13, 2020, and give a reading from her award-winning work. She will be joined by Christine Schutt who will give a special reading. Documentation of the event will appear in a future issue of Blackbird. The award night is free and open to all.