The first edition of the Verandah Literary Journal was launched in 1986, beneath the shade of the ‘wide verandahs’ of Victoria College. Established as a student-run publication, from its inception Verandah has attracted high quality work from both established and emerging writers and artists for annual publication.
Each year, a new publication team is selected from students studying the Professional and Creative Writing degree, and their vision and philosophies are reflected in the journal. It has remained a constant commitment over the years for Verandah to produce an art and literary journal of the highest quality and one which serves as a platform of development for both budding writers and artists.
Verandah aims to maintain a balance between the publication of students’ and non-students’ work. Deakin University students are entered for free, but if you are not a Deakin student entry fees apply. Opportunity to win prizes are available in all categories. Full guidelines can be found on the submissions page.
The first edition of Verandah was launched on Friday 28 November 1986 by the Dean of Arts, Dr June Hearn, in the great hall of Stonnington. The founding editors were Anne Casey, Katie Cody, Genevieve Fitzgerald and Dianne Perrin Knie.
2013 Interview with Genevieve Fitzgerald – founding editor
What prompted you to start the journal?
As students of Professional Writing & Editing in their final year of the degree, we were inspired to do something about the fact that – whilst there were fantastic options for learning about writing techniques – there was nothing much that formally addressed the necessary skills an editor might need. If the degree was not only about writing, we wanted to learn what an editor’s job looked like, and to create a literary journal that showcased the talents of writers and artists emerging from across the four campuses from Deakin University.
How did you get it off the ground?
The first thing we did was plot! I had some experience with the campus administration, having established an on-campus radio station called RAW (Radio At Work). Anne Casey, who had the initial idea for a journal, figured that we could harness my knowledge to formalise the project (and get up a successful funding application). Each of us wanted particular elements enshrined into the project model, but all agreed that such an intensely demanding project shouldn’t be done without academic recognition. Fortunately, we did get a second semester credit (which diminished some of the agony of juggling the journal with our other full time study in Semester One). We also wanted to make sure that the journal was inclusive of the student body across the four campuses of what was then Victoria College (later to become Deakin University). We agreed that visual as well as written text should be included. We were emphatic that none of us should do more than one year so that the next group of editors would be free from the dictates of a supposed expert.
We’d heard that a literary journal had been produced by the Prahran Art School before the writing course was shifted to the Toorak campus, and that our literature lecturer Julian Gitzen had been its editor. So off we tromped to see Julian, secure his blessings and ongoing support. From his office and pumped with optimism, we went to our fiction lecturer Gerald Murnane for further impetus. He, being a wonderful teacher and mentor, gave the thumbs up and endless encouragement without hesitation.
Once we had nutted out what we wanted to do, we drafted a formal proposal that requested accreditation for a specific editing unit. We took this to the course co-ordinator Alan Mahar, and onto the Acting Dean Stan Van Hooft, who expressed his keen interest in seeing the project get off the ground.
TAS (the Toorak Association of Students) agreed to put a grant of $2,500 on the table to use as a lever for other financial input. With this as insurance, we made a visit to the in-house university printers based at Burwood. A rough estimate of the costs (at the time totalling $4,000) clarified the funding chase and an approach to the student associations of the three other campuses (i.e. Rusden, Burwood and Prahran) met with the welcome news that each campus was willing to contribute an additional $500 grant.
With a budget, an accredited editing unit sorted by Alan Mahar and the above-mentioned supporting staff members, the challenge became how to secure content. Unanimous agreement to produce a good-looking publication, with quality paper and mindful attention to font + white space + an interesting mix of fiction, poetry, non-fiction, essays and graphics (both print & photographic) was easy to achieve. The most difficult part of the process was deciding on the name! What would most successfully articulate the experience of studying the arts in a university setting? What could symbolize the experience of writing, creating and editing? Here we were, wandering through the beautiful external landscape and the historic building, Stonnington, mincing along the eastern wing of the enclosed verandah where we sat for our exams, with rough scratchings on notepads with crazy linguistic combinations until it became so obvious it was almost embarrassing. The verandah: the site of our academic struggles where we were put to the test was a perfect metaphor of the intensity of our L-plated editorial experience.
The choice of including the ‘h’ at the end was deliberate: somehow it finishes the word, itself acting as a closure to the structure. Verandah: it’s a word that in itself is musical and somehow poetic, historic in that it featured prominently in the Australian vernacular, encapsulating in an architectural sense to invite the reader onto the deck and into a comfy chair, with the feet up for a leisurely read. The editors of Volume Six explained the choice of name as “representative of the Australian way of life and the attitudes of its people”. That’s true too. A verandah is wide and expansive, big enough to accommodate a multitude of meanings.
Inevitably, once word had got out that we were publishing and the submissions started to roll in, editorial tastes led to healthy arguments about the merit of one piece above another. The choice of inclusion is a tough one, particularly when the standard of work is consistently high. This is an essential part of the training for editors, and breaking the news to the unsuccessful one of the hardest of tasks. If we’d had a bigger budget, we would have printed more of the submissions we received. Maybe it’s good we didn’t because Verandah is right-sized.
As any editor knows, the great part of publishing is when ‘the baby’ comes back from the printers and the official launch christens the public legitimacy of the book. The launch of the first Verandah was held in the great hall of Stonnington, at the steps the stairwell that leads to the testing ground of the upstairs Verandah. It was a fantastic event, graced with the presence of family, friends, supportive academics and the artists who had been included as well as by acclaimed Australian writers Helen Garner and Garry Disher. At $4 a copy, it was a bargain as well as a great read.
How do you think the journal has developed over the years?
One thing in retrospect is how minimal our preface was. It’s inspiring to read embodied reflections from other editorial teams, and I laugh at how timid ours appears. The fact that we were exhausted shows in the text we produced in launching that first edition. I gave birth to my first daughter a few weeks after Volume One was launched.
As I think about the imminent publication of another volume, the thing I most treasure is the adherence to what the founding editors saw as the fundamental rule: that the editors can only produce one volume and then must move on. We were aware that a continuing editor could too easily morph into a meglomaniac, dictating the rules and missing the whole point of the process. The editorial experience is richest for students who start from scratch and stumble through the labyrinth with a rough map (hastily sketched and passed on by those who have travelled before) to find a new way of expressing the view from the verandah.
Each volume is reflective of the content and the context in which it was published. As the journal evolves, the artwork has included more photography, which is a welcome addition. The quality of the journal has been maintained, with the original design honoured without burdening each edition with a tired layout. Fresh energy and ideas help the journal to evolve, and as it turns 28, there is no doubt that Verandah has grown into a truly remarkable training ground and an impressive body of work.
Why do you think the journal is important?
In the original (and extremely brief!) Editorial Foreword, the importance of small literary magazines for writers was noted. Nothing much has changed. Verandah remains a platform for editors to hone their skills and for artists (whether text-based or otherwise) to experience the joy of being celebrated.
Without doubt, a professional editing and writing course is not fully realized unless there are choices across the spectrum – which includes formal opportunities to train as an editor. Verandah provides experiential learning, including how to negotiate with others who may be in complete disagreement with your opinion. Not having the chance to act as an editor is like going for a swim and only getting your feet wet. A student-managed literary journal puts the theory into practice.
Publication is always a good thing. For those artists (whatever their medium) who are new to the experience, it’s a gentle nudge to keep going because there are people who think the work is good enough to share with others. As for the editorial experience, I paraphrase from Robin Freeman’s preface in Volume 26 because the training does equate to running a small business: securing funding, managing budgets, advertising for and shortlisting contributions for publication, proofing and editing, overseeing production with designers and printers, negotiating and collaborating with each other as well as the content contributors, organising the launch, the promotion, the media and fundamentally getting a kick arse golden opportunity to experience the world of publishing as well as supporting the fertile ground of small literary journals. It’s a demanding task that bears delicious fruit.
What are you doing now?
The last I heard of the others, Katie has had three kids and a flourishing career as senior editor at Lonely Planet. I’m not sure what Anne and Dianne got up to next. As for me, I’ve done various things that have all been informed by the training I received in writing and editing – including an intense involvement as media and funding co-ordinator in the campaign to get some water back into the Snowy River. Right now I’m at uni, undertaking an Honours Thesis year (as part of a Bachelor of Science – go figure!). The thesis investigates the politics of power through the case study of the Snowy. I love it! I hope next year to secure a 3-yr PhD scholarship that will allow me to broaden the scope of the research, allowing as well for the production of a book or two and some documentary work (radio & film).
That baby I gave birth to a month after Volume One was launched is now 25, and last year completed a writing & editing course at RMIT. Sometimes I wonder if she had no other choice, considering her gestation phase! One thing’s for sure: the training I gained from Verandah taught me profound lessons about courage and risk, creativity and collaboration, about how a good idea can become a generous reality that applies the ‘pay it forward’ principle if everyone is willing to share. I am forever grateful to the people who helped to get the journal off the notepad and onto the bookshelf, to all those who continue to nourish it and to the ever-increasing family that grows from Verandah’s annual publication.