Innovative blueprint helps Totem win

The American Scholastic Press Association has awarded Gannon University’s literary arts magazine, Totem, two honors for the 2011 edition.

The first award grants Totem first place with special merit, which the magazine has received 16 years in a row. But it is the second award, in which the ASPA recognized Totem as the most outstanding literary art magazine for 2011, that is garnering the most attention from the magazine’s staff.

The “special merit” award is the highest award given in the annual literary arts competition, according to Berwyn Moore, associate professor of English and Totem faculty adviser.

Totem received the award by competing in the category of colleges and universities with enrollments of at least 2,500 students. Totem has received this same recognition for 16 straight years. Moore said the second award is especially significant because it can be attributed to the innovative design of the 2011 edition.

“The first place with special merit didn’t surprise me,” Moore said. “But this other award – this most outstanding – it’s hard to tell from the criteria because we usually score pretty well in all of these anyway, but this award probably says something about that unique and innovative three-booklet design.”

The design, which features a boxed set of three separate booklets for poetry, prose and art, was the collaboration of 2011 Totem Editor Tomee Barnes and university graphic designer Catrina Spano. After years of editions that were contained within one bound book, this design was a step in a new direction. Barnes, now a senior, said her decision to pursue a new design was a risk because Totem had never seen such a change before.

“When I became editor of the Totem, I knew then I wasn’t going to be satisfied with keeping it as our status quo kind of book,” Barnes said. “It had stayed the same, and even though it was award-winning and we were doing really well, I felt that part of us gaining prestige about the book was changing it and making it something that in the end matched our contributors.”

Through their layout, Barnes and Spano liked what they saw from the 2011 edition, and according to Barnes, Spano said that of all the years of designing Totem, the outside design finally matched the quality of the work within its pages.

“In the end I was really hoping that the design would attract people for the next years to come,” Barnes said.

The Totem staff has yet to receive the complete results of the 2011 competition, which Moore said are released in December. These results – which also list other winning magazines from universities nationwide – will contain a deeper evaluation of the 2011 Totem. Moore said she is anticipating the evaluation to learn the reason why Totem received recognition for the most outstanding literary art magazine in 2011.

Moore praised the effort of last year’s staff for the 2011 edition’s success.

“I think that one thing that happens is that the previous year’s accomplishments become an inspiration to the new editors and staff, and they just want to keep up the momentum and high quality, so they work hard to do that,” Moore said.

Even with new recognition in tow, Moore said that she expects Totem to maintain its high quality for years to come.

But even though the magazine staff might be hard at work, Totem is only as strong as its submissions.

“We’re open to any kind of subject matter and style and form,” Moore said.

“We take a look at what we think will be the best representative work for the Gannon community.”

The submission date for the 2012 edition of Totem is Oct. 28. According to Moore, each work submitted goes through the same process, giving each piece a fair chance to be published.

Names are removed from the submitted works before each piece is reviewed by a panel of judges.

These judges consist of an undergraduate student, a graduate student and a faculty member.

Barnes said that through her time as Totem editor she only transferred the submissions to them; other than that, she had no knowledge of the judging process, decisions for acceptance or even where the judges met.

Moore said that even though the judging process is quite fair, not every submission will make the cut into the final publication.

“We have to be selective; we can’t publish everything that we get, because we don’t have the space for it,” she said.

“Students have to understand that we do have to be selective, but we try to select things in as fair and objective a process as possible.”

Christine Peffer, a junior English major and editor of the 2012 Totem, said she already has some plans for the new edition of the magazine.

Her preliminary plans include returning to one bound book but keeping the magazine sections separate.

Peffer has encouraged everyone to submit to Totem and assures participants of the benefits of submitting their work.

“I would say that as a writer, criticism is your best friend,” Peffer said.

“It’s your worst enemy and your best friend. You’re never going to get any better if you don’t get any opinions from other people.

“And just seeing your name in print, it’s a pretty awesome feeling.”

Moore said that she hopes to see students from every program participate in Totem.

She said the magazine isn’t just for English majors, and she looks forward each year to producing a new edition of Totem with new staff and new contributors.

“It’s a new experience every year,” Moore said.

“And it changes too, because the technology changes and our ideas change and what students are writing about changes.”


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