Fourth Genre is one of only a few strictly nonfiction journals, sharing the genre with literary journals such as Creative Nonfiction, River Teeth, and Brevitymag.org. The journal, operating within the Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures (WRAC) department here at MSU, publishes a variety of nonfiction authors with work ranging from essays in all forms to memoir to writer as reader, all written in a variety of styles and voices. Writers published in Fourth Genre include Ander Monson, Brenda Miller, Michele Morano, Ned Stucky-French, and Ryan Van Meter, to name a few.
The great thing about Fourth Genre being housed within the WRAC department is that it affords the opportunity for students to be exposed to and involved with a national literary journal with award winning writers and editors. Students interested in the publishing world get first-hand experience while working with people that have years of experience in the field. I had the opportunity to interview Kathleen Livingston, an MSU graduate student, about her experiences working for Fourth Genre to get an idea of what it is that students can take from this nonfiction press.
Livingston says, “Working as a member of the editorial staff is valuable for nonfiction writers who may want an insider’s perspective on what happens to our writing when we submit it for publication and for those seeking editing/publishing experience at a literary journal devoted to innovative nonfiction.” Students get the opportunity to be involved with day-to-day activities such as discussing style, ethics, and techniques specific to nonfiction, selecting manuscripts, and communicating with authors including giving feedback. They are also given the opportunity to attend a fantastic creative writing conference, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference.
Livingston feels that working in the editorial department of Fourth Genre has made her a better writer: “Working at Fourth Genre has helped me clarify what kind of nonfiction writer I want to be by identifying what it is about certain essays that make a reader’s heart beat fast with recognition, appreciation, and sometimes awe. Not only has working at Fourth Genre made me a better writer, it has also made me a better writing teacher by giving me practice with offering generative feedback and entering into respectful relationships with authors.” Students get the opportunity to see other people’s work go through the same process that theirs has or will in the future. They know what editors are looking for and what makes for a compelling piece of writing.
Fourth Genre seems to stress the idea of giving every piece a chance. Livingston told me that “the process of sifting through manuscripts to discuss has taught me (through trial and error) to remember that the words on paper are someone’s story. As Editor Laura Julier has taught us, whether or not we find the pieces promising for publication, we have a responsibility to give them a chance and respect the emotional effort the writing took to produce.” Every piece that gets submitted to Fourth Genre gets thoroughly discussed at a weekly meeting and the author gets a response to their submission with staff comments. Not only is Fourth Genre publishing exceptional pieces within their journal, they are also helping those who are not quite ready for publication to make them better writers as well.
Fourth Genre covers all topics of nonfiction; essays, literary criticism, memoirs, lyric essays, and the whimsical are all included, and the journal is even utilizing the WRAC staff’s varied skills in art and digital media in upcoming projects. The Fourth Genre staff stays up-to-date with the conversations about nonfiction going on in the literary community and contributes to the discussions by reading other journals and magazines, talking about relevant issues in meetings, and writing themselves. With so few journals focusing in strictly nonfiction, Fourth Genre’s contributions to the community are significant.
The current issue of Fourth Genre is out now, with stories covering topics such as Taco Tuesday in Marquette, coming out, growing things, ancestral recipes, what happens when your sweetheart leaves and leaves all their things behind, ballet bodies, and aging bodies. The issue, like all others, also includes an introduction by Julier, essays with commentary, and reviews.