During the second open-house event I attended before enrolling at Rowan, a student ambassador from the CCCA dropped a little booklet in front of us potential students. She said that these booklets were different editions of Avant, the undergraduate-led literary magazine at Rowan. I was told at the first open house event that student publications existed on campus, but this was the first one to be named for me. I leafed through my copy, losing myself in the neatly laid out pages and the work of my soon-to-be peers. But there were still students and professors presenting to the room outside of my booklet, so I gingerly set it aside. Mentally, I made a note to find out more about this magazine when I got home.
Flash forward to this semester, just about two years after my first encounter with the Avant magazine. What exactly have I learned about Avant since then?
Avant may not be the only literary magazine published on campus, but it is the only Rowan magazine that is run by undergraduate students who accept literary work from other undergraduate students. It also may be the oldest student group associated with Rowan (this is currently up for debate), and for years the club has been an active focal point for Rowan’s writing community. For the past several years, Avant has published one magazine per semester, and its members have been dedicated to getting their submissions printed no matter what. The students who populate the desks in every Avant meeting are able to work with the professionality of career-editors and the passion of America’s future wordsmiths. I may sound like I’m waxing poetic here, but the environment and the work ethic of Avant is impressive.
My first Avant meeting was during my first semester of college, in the Fall of 2018. I’ll admit that I was intimidated at first -- in high school, I helped run our school’s creative writing club, but our meetings were often free-wheeling and somewhat chaotic. Avant was different. The E-board members were all very friendly, but their evaluations of the pieces that were submitted were informed and deeply inquisitive. I may have been an A-student in high school, but I was getting nervous that I wouldn’t be able to measure up to these other members.
This worry was through no fault of the club members’ actions. My nervousness was just another fish-out-of-water experience that came with starting college for the first time. But regardless, I was quite shy for the majority of the first meetings that I went to. How could I fit in with these students who seemed a day away from launching successful writing careers? Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who started his first year at Avant in silence.
“I didn’t really talk a lot during meetings,” said Remy Desai-Patel, one of Avant’s current assistant editors. Although he was also a bit shy at first, he still went to every meeting.
“[It was] such a welcoming environment for everyone,” he said. And despite being a brand-new member, he still felt like he belonged with this group.
Each Avant meeting runs with members reading and critiquing anonymous writing submissions, and then voting for whether or not the piece will be accepted as is for the semester’s magazine. Because open discussion is such an integral component of reviewing submissions, fresh faces and fresh ideas are always encouraged!
“[Having] so many authors with different styles of writing, debates happen,” said Thomas LaPorte, an active Avant member. But according to him these debates are “when things get interesting!”
These back-and-forth discussions all help the club decide what’s best for the author and their work.
Hannah Tran, Avant’s current Editor-In-Chief, has found an appreciation in how these critique discussions have evolved this year.
“A lot of our members from last year graduated,” she said, so “nearly everyone who attended our first meeting of this school year was new to Avant. It was a bit difficult to keep a discussion rolling in our first couple meetings because everyone was still getting comfortable with each other.”
But as the year continued, each member became more relaxed with each other, and a sense of group camaraderie kicked back in. Gladly, Hannah says that after only one semester together, “I have to reign in the talking so we can get through our submissions on time!”
Though these conversations are meant to help their anonymous authors grow as writers, the Avant editors benefit from the group’s critiques just as much as the authors do. As Remy told me, his writing has been influenced by his understanding of “what makes accepted pieces so successful.” Placing yourself into the shoes of a magazine editor certainly helps you figure out how to create something that others will take an interest in.
Tom had a similar take-away -- “By understanding the way other authors think, my own inner editor picks up on errors in my own work.”
I have to agree with them both. The same reason why I was initially worried about speaking up during meetings is now why I’m eager to contribute to every conversation. The more involved that everyone in the room is, the more I learn about what I could do to make my own writing more successful. If a student-led editing room feels as unfamiliar to you as it did to me, then I would tell you to hang in there, and keep going back to meetings. The benefit of the experience will soon outweigh any initial growing pains.
“I stuck around and ended up making lifelong friends [at Avant]” said Remy.
A specific highlight from his time with the magazine was the Fall of 2019. Although he normally makes friends with new and old club members each semester, Remy said that last fall every Avant member “ended up getting to know each other on a deep level,” and they all grew to be some of his closest friends on campus.
Tom’s glad he stuck around both because of the club’s camaraderie, and also because of the Coffee House event that Avant and RAH co-sponsored earlier this year.
“It was great hanging out with everyone outside of Avant and performing our own poetry,” he said.
Hannah told me that the Coffee House wasn’t only her best Avant experience, she said it was “one of the most positive experiences” that she’s had as a college student so far.
“[The Coffee House event] is the spirit of Avant -- being part of a community, having fun together, pushing each other, and taking creative risks.”
This spirit is something that Hannah and her E-board have been working especially hard on to maintain during this COVID-19 outbreak. Though most Rowan students are confined within the walls of their home, Avant has managed to continue business as (almost) usual -- weekly Zoom meetings, compiling student submissions, sending feedback to submission authors, and sharing personal writing projects with the group online.
Seeing how the club continues to support each other gives Hannah confidence that, no matter what, Avant will “endure and adapt” to any challenge that lies ahead.
Due to several schedule conflicts I ended up not being able to act as a full-time member during my first year at Rowan. But my brief memories of the club were fond enough to pull me back in when my schedule opened up. Now a full-time member, I only wish that I had been able to join sooner! As a young writer, it can be incredibly comforting having a group of people in your life who understand and can support your passion for writing. I encourage any Writing Arts student -- as well as any student who simply enjoys writing and storytelling -- to give Avant a try. Despite any nerves that may fire up at your first meeting, I promise that you’ll fit in before you realize it. Getting involved with this magazine is a great way to find both a supportive community of writers and a better understanding of how to make your writing the best that it can be.