An Interview with Nina Corwin

Poet, editor, literary curator, and psychotherapist are just some of Nina Corwin’s identities. She first became involved in Fifth Wednesday Journal (FWJ) in 2007, when the journal was just starting. “I agreed to edit one issue because I was afraid to get in over my head,” she admits. “I had to be careful since I have a tendency to get overcommitted.” After serving as the guest poetry editor of the journal’s inaugural issue, she started helping host FWJ events before returning as the guest poetry editor for the fourth issue. Nina is currently an advisory editor and still helps host FWJ readings. She has become an integral part of the FWJ team.

When editing the first issue, she and Vern Miller, the founder and publisher of FWJ, reckoned that having different guest editors for each issue would prevent one stylistic bias from overtaking the journal. She also mentions that having several readers screen submissions ensures that one reader’s aesthetic isn’t “weeding out” pieces that are truly good. As for her own literary preferences when editing FWJ, she says, “I was really interested in bringing in more of what some people call ‘experimental’ poets, what others might call ‘innovative’ poets.”

Creating a stylistically balanced journal is just one of the challenges editors face. Publishing a journal featuring both emerging and established writers is important because it introduces new talent to the literary world while attracting recognition from the literary world. Finding this range of writers, however, is difficult: “When a journal starts and has no reputation, some of the highest quality writers aren’t going to submit to a journal that hasn’t proved itself,” she says. Fortunately, Nina is great at connecting people and has helped draw in talented writers to FWJ. She is also very active in the Chicago poetry scene, which she describes as “incredibly and wonderfully diverse,” and she often curates poetry readings. She credits her days of waitressing as something that helped develop her interest in curating; she enjoyed putting together a pleasing meal for others and sees curating as a kind of extension of that: “[When you are] curating, hosting, you are welcoming authors and lovers of writing. You are serving both of those groups, and you are presenting—creating—a wonderful meal of literature.”

Sharing work and talking about it play an important part in the literary community, Nina says. While she relishes her role in bringing together readers and writers at readings, she also loves what happens in writing workshops. “The conversation between writers that begins,” she says, “is one of the vibrant, vital aspects of my experience as writer, curator, and editor. It brings me into conversation not only with my work but also [with other writers] in an exchange of ideas.” This exchange of ideas, Nina notes, can happen anywhere. She acknowledges that while social media sites are full of people sometimes connecting over silly things, they also provide a space for more serious conversations, including literary ones. “I think it’s the community aspects of those formats that draw people to want to read and to want to write. It’s great not only in fostering writers, but in engaging and motivating kids to take part in literacy.” Social media sites, she points out, play an important role in developing today’s and tomorrow’s literary community.

Nina’s focus on bringing things together—whether it’s poems in a journal, people at a reading, or writers in a workshop—reveals her own poetic inclinations. Her most recent book of poetry, The Uncertainty of Maps, brings together her diverse interests and identities in its themes: “The themes in the book—imperfection, uncertainty, and impermanence—really reflect [the] joining of my interests. It’s a convergence of my psychotherapist self, my poet self, and my aging philosopher self.” Gathering together these various aspects of her life and merging them into a larger work gives them more weight. And this, she says, is what FWJ is doing as well. “[Fifth Wednesday Journal] really creates something that is far more than the sum of its parts.”

— Interview by Annie Bruckner, Media Assistant at Fifth Wednesday Journal.

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