It’s not common for an undergraduate student to work on a literary magazine that includes submissions from a former U.S. poet laureate and other award winners, but that, Soma Mei Sheng Frazier said, is the beauty of the new offering called Subnivean.

Launched in the fall semester, Subnivean is SUNY Oswego's new, undergraduate-staffed digital publication concentrated in a class taught by Frazier, an assistant professor of English and creative writing 

The debut issue featured “some dazzling writing by literary heavyweights,” Frazier said, including U.S. Poet Laureate Emeritus Juan Felipe Herrera and literary luminaries Arisa White, Meg Hurtado Bloom, John Sibley Williams, Sofie Harsha, Jendi Reiter, Angie Kang, Louise Wareham Leonard and Jane Wong. Frazier also complimented “a beautiful video” by alumnus David Moore. More than 3,000 unique visitors have enjoyed the inaugural effort.

One thing that deeply impressed me, even before I joined SUNY Oswego's faculty, was our undergraduate-run print literary journal, the Great Lake Review, which has published student work since 1964,” Frazier noted. “Having founded digital publications for schools in the past, I thought it would be terrific to develop Subnivean as an analogue to the GLR.

The main difference is that Subnivean is not a venue for student work but instead “a behind-the-curtains look at digital storytelling and publishing for our students, who will read, edit and vote upon work submitted by writers around the globe,” Frazier said.  

“Luckily for me, I quickly learned that establishing a multimedia literary publication has been a primary goal of the department of English and creative writing for some time, so the project's development has been the result of invaluable support from faculty and administrators alike,” Frazier said.

While reaching out to authors can be somewhat daunting as a small upstart publication, a lot of them are incredibly receptive and approachable,” said Athena Lamicela, a senior English major and student editor-in-chief. 

“With my graduation fast approaching, I want to carry forward the reminder that all of us — even those with solid careers and published works — are just people,” Lamicela said. “I believe it's important to approach people with a genuine interest beyond what they can offer professionally.” 

Going into the first issue, things sometimes felt “scrappy and uncertain,” Lamicela said, but the results have bolstered everybody’s confidence about the magazine’s viability.

Demystifying storytelling

With the digital magazine based in Frazier’s Creative Writing 313 class, it adds a rigorous but highly applicable layer to the academic work.

Subnivean’s educational mission is to demystify digital storytelling and publishing for students via hands-on, project-based experience: the publication will continue to be staffed, each semester, by undergraduates in my digital storytelling course,” Frazier said. “Beyond equipping students with new skills and understandings, Subnivean offers a real-world industry foothold — an on-staff experience that looks great on a resume or CV — and an inroad to the national and international literary communities.”

But as Lamicela and classmates learned, this peek inside the literary world shows the often-generous nature of the literary community, which provides a tremendous networking opportunity for students.

“People describe the literary community as cutthroat,” Frazier said. “I've experienced it, instead, as a mutually supportive community of word nerds. That includes everyone from our students, here at SUNY Oswego, to the emerging writers who may submit work to Subnivean's literary competitions, to the celebrity authors who'll adjudicate it, and all the folks in between: my literary agent, editors who've published my work, and of course, the audiences I've met at events across the U.S.”

The sense of community extends to the students, who are both getting a glimpse at their futures while cherishing their current connections. 

There are so many connections and friendships I've made in my time at SUNY Oswego that I want to keep alive after we scatter to the worldly winds, and I trust many more will come with time,” Lamicela said. “Those connections are what give meaning to the work I do. Reading people's stories inspires me to write my own, and editing for journals like this let me share that feeling with the world.” 

Like Athena, each member of our close-knit staff has a particular literary aesthetic, and that diversity, married with our commitment to publishing high-caliber writing, ensures there will be something for everyone in Subnivean,” Frazier said.

Subnivean Awards set 

In addition to working on a spring issue, the next step includes soliciting submissions for the Subnivean Awards literary competition, which will feature celebrated authors Daniel "Lemony Snicket" Handler, April Sinclair and Arisa White as final judges.

The awards competition, with a Feb. 28 deadline, invites submissions in fiction and poetry. 

Frazier notes that the content for the magazine stretches beyond traditional works, cultivating “unboring stories, poems and videos — and, eventually, an original audio series.”

“We mean what we say on the website: Subnivean never flees from chilling poems, penetrating stories, words that whip our perspectives around,” Frazier said. “Our editorial mission is to curate and produce bone-deep, high-caliber literary art that speaks urgently to an evermore connected international audience. And we take that mission very seriously.

The students will have a lot of work to do but plenty of material to start with for future editions: Since late October 2020, the publication has also received more than 510 manuscripts for consideration, submitted by writers in the United Kingdom, Italy, Canada, India, Bangladesh, Australia, Japan, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Sweden, France, Austria, Portugal, Paraguay, Morocco, Norway, Germany, Ireland, Poland, South Africa, Pakistan, Nigeria, New Zealand, and 41 U.S. states. 

For students like Lamicela who review and vote on these submissions, the challenge is an ambitious yet beneficial one.

As we start to really dig into the submissions process, I am looking forward to working with the team to bring out the best Subnivean has to offer,” Lamicela said. “We already have so many great submissions coming, and all our work is really coming into focus, and it's a good reminder during the pandemic that small organizations of dedicated people can still find their footing and even thrive in the chaos of our world.”