By Melanie Threlkeld McConnell
Western Carolina University English graduate students now have another avenue to publish their written works, thanks to the vision of one of their own.
Stephanie Cook, who is in her second year of her master’s degree in English, with a concentration in literature, created “Yonder,” an online literary magazine published on Medium, with the help of Laura Wright, WCU English professor and director of graduate studies.
Cook, who also started the English Graduate Students Organization, discovered the void for those students seeking an advanced English degree when she was looking for opportunities for herself and her peers to publish their work.
“I initially wanted to participate in the writing competition that is held in conjunction with the Spring Literary Festival each year but found out that was only for undergraduate students,” Cook said. “I then contacted “The Nomad” about working on that publication but was again told that it was for undergrads. It became clear to me that we needed a way for our English graduate students to display their work at WCU.”
It’s important for English graduate students to get their work published for several reasons Cook said. It allows them opportunities to peer review and edit submissions and for the student writers to get a “valuable line item” for their resumes, she said.
Cook, who serves as the EGSO president, said she established the organization to help reach graduate students socially, academically and through professional development support. There are currently 30 students in the English graduate program, up from the past two years.
“Because of the pandemic, we realized that grad students were not getting the peer support that is so helpful during an intensive program like the English M.A. degree,” she said. “One of the goals of supporting grad students’ professional development was to find a place for students to publish and display their written work from the program in a low-stakes way.”
Cook spent the past summer working an assistantship in the Graduate School, researching the benefits of a graduate-run publication on WCU’s campus. Through that research, she said, it was clear graduate students would gain valuable experience. “Many students will go on to publish their work in other venues, and Yonder provides an initial steppingstone to get there,” she said.
Last spring, Cook put out a call for submissions of creative and scholarly work to all current, former, and incoming English graduate students. She received 12. EGSO officers Emma Hamilton and Meghan Harrison serve as co-editors-in-chief and spent the summer working with Wright on the final 10 submissions for publication.
“I think everyone who wanted their work in there was published,” Wright said. “I think there’s a really nice mix. There’s one poem, a few short stories and a few essays that are more scholarly in nature.”
With Cook scheduled to graduate in May 2022, she believes her EGSO team is positioning itself well to keep the publication going. “They are working hard to try to create an entirely grad student-produced online publication, with a long-term goal of also creating a print version as well.”