When Stirring began, I was eighteen and living illicitly in my boyfriend's dormroom at Brown figuring out what I was going to do with my life. I was a recent college dropout who spent most of her days reading and watching Sportscenter, living off Hamburger Helper and the goodwill of others. It was the late nineties, though, and everyone was going to get rich from the internet. I figured I might as well be one of them, so I started a little lit journal to make a few bucks off internet advertising and publish the poems of people I'd respected in my days of the AOL poetry slams. Those were the days.
Little did I know how much Stirring would fundamentally change my path in life, the people I would know, and ultimately who I was and wanted to be.
In October of 1999, we launched our inaugural issue with eleven poems, two stories, and a one-act play. We had a tiny staff of a few of my college friends and writers I knew from the e-slam days, including John Turner, who still serves as a poetry editor for us today. We were among a few dozen lit journals alive on the internet at that time. Today, we are one of only around five of those still publishing—and as far as I know, we're the oldest continually publishing literary journal founded by a woman.
But I was barely a woman back then. Young and naïve about the po-biz. But I loved publishing. I loved seeing work from writers both established and new. I took great pleasuring in publishing someone's first poem or picking up a story that had been rejected at other journals. I loved the letters from authors, the notes from readers, the camaraderie of our editors. I loved getting to ask people I admired to guest edit. I loved launching new issues and choosing cover photos. And no, we never did make any money, nor will we likely ever, but even after I realized this, I was already hooked.
Less than a year after starting Stirring, I began Sundress Publications with the intent of creating a shared hosting site to help other fledgling editors get their journals off of ad-fueled free services like Angelfire and Geocities. We brought wicked alice on board in 2003 and have hosted dozens of journals of the years, including, currently, Stone Highway Review and Trailer Park Quarterly.
During the next five years, while I was editing Stirring and finishing my BA in Creative Writing, I watched journals like Diagram and Typo flourish, and I saw the writing on the wall for print journals as more and more started to move online. Yet these same journals weren't seeing the prestige they deserved in places like Best American Poetry and the Pushcarts, so in 2006, we started the Best of the Net Anthology in order to recognize the writers and editors who also understood that they were going to get 10x the readership online than they ever were in print. To recognize the incredibly hard work most editors were doing for free simply to bring interesting and sometimes overlooked writing to the masses.
Since then, I've earned a PhD in Creative Writing. I've worked on several other journals, including Ninth Letter and the Mississippi Review. I've learned from amazing editors from all types of publishing. Now I teach Creative Writing at the University of Tennessee and still, for me, it's all about building community. I've met many of my best friends through Stirring and Sundress. I've had the great pleasure of bringing writers from our journal to read here in Knoxville. I've been moved to tears by poetry and prose I've ever come across in our slush pile. I've had the opportunity to work with over a hundred different editors at Stirring over the past 15 years, all of them gifted and eloquent and kind.
It's with a great sadness that I am stepping down from the managing editor role at Stirring, but after 15 years, I feel it's time to give someone else a chance to experience what I have grown so deeply to love. Starting with the November, 2014 issue, our new managing editors will be Luci Brown, Andrew Koch, and Sarah Einstein. Each are fantastic writers who will bring a new flavor and aesthetic to the writing published here, and all three have work—ed extensively in online publishing and understand the labor of love that it continues to be.
You will still find me at Sundress as our managing editor, and you'll definitely see me in overalls at our new farm in Knoxville, TN painting, building, and growing our new artist colony, the Sundress Academy for the Arts. (Now open for residency applications!) And I'll definitely be here, reading the excellent work that Stirring will continue to publish.
I can't thank you, our readers, our contributors, our editors, enough for how much this journal has meant and continues to mean for me. What started as a whim has become so much of who I am, who Sundress is, and who we still want to be—scrappy, ambitious, and consistent. You are the best. We couldn't do it without you.
Fifteen years down.
Now let's do fifteen more.
Erin Elizabeth Smith
Founding & Managing Editor
Stirring: A Literary Collection