Barthelme’s Departure Leaves the ‘Mississippi Review’ in Limbo

If you’re a fiction writer or a poet who planned to submit something to the Mississippi Review this summer, you might want to hold off for the moment. The journal’s editor, fiction writer Frederick Barthelme, will not be returning to his job as director of the University of Southern Mississippi’s creative-writing program, the Center for Writers.  That means he’s also left the Review, which is published by the center.

For years the Review has been held in high regard, publishing Ray Carver, Rick Moody, Tao Lin, and other established and rising talents. According to Barthelme and to news reports, he’s not the only casualty; the managing editor is now gone too.

The Hattiesburg American has been covering the center’s drama in detail. The paper reported that the circumstances of Barthelme’s departure have dismayed the university’s creative-writing faculty members and students. (See more coverage here.) Julia Johnson, a poet and an assistant professor of English, voiced some of those concerns. “I came here to work in a nationally recognized creative writing program, with a national magazine, a visiting writer’s series and Rick Barthelme,” she told the Mississippi paper. “I didn’t come here to work in an English department with a little sideshow for its creative writing students.”

The Chronicle asked Barthelme via email what’s going to happen with the Review. “At present, then, there is no staff at all, and there is no one here who has actually run a magazine previously,” he responded. “The interim department chair has been talking to other English faculty (non-creative writing) about taking over the magazine.  He is also talking to the remaining CW faculty about the same thing, and it’s unclear which way the tree will fall.”

The uncertainty has already had an effect, according to Barthelme, who told us that the summer 2010 online issue has been cancelled. “Another is scheduled for Oct. 1, and I have heard nothing about plans for it,” he said. “The online magazine has, as you may know, separate content, i.e. it is not a reprint, or a partial version of the print magazine–it’s completely separate with original content.”

There’s still a print issue scheduled for December 2010, Barthelme told the Chronicle, “but as far as I know there are no plans in process for producing it.”

Steven R. Moser, associate dean and professor of music at the university, is the interim head of the English department. Via e-mail, the Chronicle asked him to comment on the situation. Moser said that the editorship of the Review has been offered to Julia Johnson, “who had been groomed to assume these duties in recent years and assumed significant responsibilities last year.” Johnson did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and Barthelme said that although she might serve as editor temporarily she may not stay at the university past the coming year.

And the future of the Center for Writers? “The creative writing program at Southern Miss is an important and high profile program and we remain committed to it,” Moser said. “The four remaining faculty are all fine teachers and excellent mentors who will do all they can to support the students in the next few years. I am working with the creative writing faculty right now to find a visiting writer in residence to teach some of the fiction classes for the upcoming year.” 

He added, “Going forward a search committee will be formed to begin a search for a faculty member for the fiction-writing position.  While these times of transition are always challenging we are confident in the future of this program and of the Mississippi Review.”—Jennifer Howard

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