Demonstrating a key indicator of academic excellence, Coastal Carolina University’s award-winning Waccamaw literary journal has earned yet another national nod for a recently published poem. 

Caroline Chavatel’s work “Spell for Misheard Sound,” published in Waccamaw Issue 24 (Spring 2020), was selected as a finalist in Best of the Net Anthology, an online publication dedicated to recognizing and celebrating exceptional literary works released in a digital arena.

“This award gives us confirmation,” said Colin Burch, senior lecturer in CCU’s Department of English, editor-in-chief for Waccamaw, and instructor of the corollary course English 569: Literary Magazine Publishing. “It means that we are a quality journal that is attracting great work. It also puts us on the map of literary journals. We’ve been there before, but we want to reaffirm that status.”

Established in 2008, Waccamaw is an online journal of contemporary literature produced by a collaboration of English department faculty and graduate students in CCU’s Master of Arts in Writing (MAW) program. Featuring original fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, the journal is published by a rotating staff of 8-12 graduate students and 4-5 faculty mentors who elicit, read, discuss, and select submissions for publication in a semester-long process. Waccamaw draws up to 1,000 entries per issue from poets and writers from around the world, and each submission is read at least three times in an extensive review procedure. Considering the publication has earned national recognition no less than 15 times before, this award perpetuates the journal’s status as a sustainable source for high-quality literary work and a vessel for bringing new literature to the digital landscape.

Brittany Atkinson, MAW ’20 and Waccamaw’s poetry editor for three semesters including Spring 2020, said she recalls her reaction when she first encountered the poem “Spell for Misheard Sound,” even in the midst of reading through hundreds of submissions. Her response included both specific technique recognition and an overall impression.

“I noticed how good the language was, and the beauty of the rhymes and slant rhymes in the poem, and that the images it used are really punchy,” said Atkinson. “Also, it made you want to reread it, because you couldn’t get every single image or every single sound the first time. With poetry, you really want a poem that begs you to reread it, because it’s doing something really cool, or maybe you didn’t know the author of the epigraph, or you want to look up an image – it wants you to reread it so you get another layer of the poem.”

Atkinson and Burch both remember that “Spell for Misheard Sound” received unanimous support for submission from the Waccamaw team.

Burch, who served as nonfiction editor for three years before becoming Waccamaw’s editor-in-chief in Fall 2019, highlighted the level of discernment and literary standards that mark the team’s editorial sessions.

“These [MAW] students teach me a lot,” said Burch. “When I go into an editorial meeting, sometimes I’ll have an idea what will be voted in, but then they’ll find issues or a clause or underdeveloped themes or something they’ll flag from a representational standpoint, and that work is voted down. And I realize they’re right. I let them guide the process, and I vote only as a tie-breaker.”

Atkinson, who is enrolled in a master of fine arts in writing program at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash., said that while the editorial process is laborious, the final product is always rewarding, and it’s fulfilling to learn of the award.

“It’s really cool to see that other people loved [the poem] too,” said Atkinson. “With all the hard work of going through all those submissions, it was great to see that it paid off. We picked something that is really fantastic, and it’s fantastic for the author that she got recognition for a moving piece.”

With an ongoing supply of talented students and faculty, Waccamaw will continue to lift up exceptional art to give it a well-deserved place in the digital world.