Tyler Van Horn
Michigan has a rich literary tradition, ranging from Hemingway’s early stories about Michigan’s wilderness to contemporary writers like Bonnie Jo Campbell keeping the state on the map. From writers to presses to literary journals, the beautiful vistas and traditional values of Michigan living continue to inspire writers to this day.
PANK magazine, a literary journal and small press based out of the Upper Peninsula, is an integral part of the contemporary literary scene in Michigan as they continue publishing forward-thinking work from writers both new and established.
PANK Magazine was founded by current editor M. Bartley Seigel in 2006.
“Michigan Tech had a sort of defunct literary magazine that nobody wanted so the department chair gave it to me with no strings attached,” Seigel said. “So I started the magazine. I was after a magazine that was doing something a little more in line with my aesthetic and what I was doing as a writer and I wasn’t really finding anything out there in the world. I was looking for a magazine that would take more chances than a lot of them would in what they were publishing.”
Seigel, who is also an associate professor of creative writing and diverse literature at Michigan Tech, recounted his founding of the magazine at Michigan Technological University: “When I showed up there wasn’t even a magazine [...] there was just a funding line. I wasn’t able to get my hands on a copy of what they had before. I think it was an undergraduate literary magazine or something, but I was never able to get my hands on anything. So [...] we started from scratch.”
From there Seigel oversaw the development of PANK, including the launching of the website in 2008, printing bi-annually, and partnering with Tiny Hardcore Press and its editor, Roxane Gay, in 2013.
Tiny Hardcore Press was founded in 2010. The press puts out “anywhere between two and four titles a year.” The most recent publication was Ashely Farmer’s “Beside Myself”, which was published earlier this month.
“The main thing that’s changed over the years is our reach.” Seigel said confidently. “We continue to garner more writers, submissions, readers [...] we’re sold in more bookstores too. What you see now is what you’re going to get.”
On its website, PANK uses its about page to describe itself as a magazine whose purpose is to, “fosters access to emerging and experimental poetry and prose, publishing the brightest and most promising writers for the most adventurous readers,” something that Seigel is quick to elaborate on.
“A lot of magazines play it safe, and I wanted it to be grittier and edgier. But I also wanted it on the level of national publications. I didn’t want it just be a website or somebody’s WordPress page. I wanted it to be a legitimate literary magazine that was doing slightly more experimental work [...] If you pick up a copy of the Iowa Review or Michigan Quarterly Review and you kind of know what you’re going to get. What you’ll get is going to safe—it’s going to be good, but it’s going to be pretty tame. I’m always looking for work the depicts the world in the way I see it, work that’s a little rough around the edges, work that takes a good look at sex or drugs or rock-and-roll.”
After a small pause, he adds: “We want to depict people’s lives as they actually live them as opposed to how literature often tries to portray them living.”
The press is run through Michigan Technological University, a fact that Seigel admits is a bit unorthodox. “PANK as a national and international avant-garde literary publication is outside the STEM wheelhouse of the institution [...] It helps since we don’t have inner faculty scrambling for the project or MFA candidates scrambling for a place in the project. I think it’s a phenomenal opportunity and one that’s a little unprecedented for a literary magazine like ours. And I think because it’s a school that’s so focused on things outside of artistic productions it’s also forced us to think a little differently about our own production. We’re having a different kind of conversation with our colleagues. We’re not just talking about books, we’re talking about engineering and chemistry. It adds to our perspective.”
“We’re publishing independently, but we’re housed in an institutional context. Michigan Tech gives us funding and protects us in some ways. What I’ve come to appreciate is that we have the stability of a literary press, but we’re still free to publish experimentally. I don’t have a board looking over my shoulder, it’s not a magazine that’s run through an undergraduate program where there’s a class that publishes through it. Roxane and I really get to pursue our own aesthetic and creative goals.”
The staff of PANK keeps itself small, having only two associate editors, a reviews editor, two interns, a small reading staff, and some advisory board members. In addition, Tiny Hardcore Press has another editor. The amount of submissions PANK receives reaches up to 15,000, according to Seigel. “We publish maybe one-percent of all the submissions we receive [...] and we print about 30 writers in each of our bi-annual issues and about twelve writers in every [online] monthly issue, so about 144 a year on the website and 60 in print.”
Seigel elaborated on the kinds of writers that PANK are writers “who are certainly emerging but who are also really at the top of their craft.“
“[I’m happy with] where we’re at now. We’re a literary magazine and a micropress. I think we do what we do very, very well, and I suspect there are too many more things to do with it.”