When Kimberly Kolbe, the New Issues Poetry & Prose managing editor at WMU, began volunteering for the literary press in the summer of 2005, she had her bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education from WMU and was applying to MFA programs.
Kolbe was accepted into WMU’s MFA program and secured graduate work study which allowed her to serve as assistant editor for three years. Upon graduation, she continued volunteering, and once the managing editor position became available, she took on her new role.
Prior to her involvement at New Issues Poetry & Prose, Kolbe served as poetry editor for Third Coast, WMU’s literary journal. As a result, her experience with small press is extensive, and she has encountered many different tasks that have helped her to comprehend the overall scope of her field. Kolbe encourages young writers to work or volunteer for a small press so they can try many tasks and see what best fits their individual strengths.
“You will never be bored,” she says. “Reading and editing will take place, but at a small press it is likely you will also serve as bookkeeper and book seller, brand ambassador, diplomat, artists’ advocate, web designer, print advertiser, envelope stuffer, grant applicant and event organizer.”
Kolbe explains that this experience is beneficial to aspiring writers.
“As an aspiring writer, you learn first-hand where your work fits in the comprehensive scope of contemporary literature,” she says.
Kolbe does not mince words, however, when describing the instability of the job market in terms of writing. “I don’t think the general public necessarily understands the ‘literary journal’; it has a very concise audience (the aspiring writer).”
The appeal of a smaller press, whether the press produces a book such as New Issues Poetry & Prose or a literary journal such as Third Coast, is that it can provide motivation for young authors, she says. “That moment of validation, when a poem or story is accepted for publication, is crucial. If it weren’t for that hard-won praise, I think a lot of books would be left half-written and abandoned.”
Kolbe encourages young writers to stay positive. “Volunteer to do what you love while you work to get by. Look for opportunity in unexpected places. I had a chapbook published because I struck up the right conversation with the right customer while working at a bookstore. Read, especially if you are submitting work. Learn your audience and editors,” she says, “and determine if your own work fits their aesthetic.”