Turning 30 is an important milestone for everyone, and Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature and Fine Arts is no exception. Founded as Domestic Crude in 1982 by Donald Barthelme and Phillip Lopate, then renamed Gulf Coast in 1986, it has experienced growth and change but continues to stay true to its original mission of investing in students.
“I thought this was a good way to empower students and also to make them articulate what it was that they thought was happening in literature at the moment,” says Gulf Coast co-founder Phillip Lopate. It began as a small idea: why not take students out of the classroom and give them a chance to run a publication of their own. The UH English department provided funding, Lopate was the faculty editor; they put out calls for submissions, and a literary journal was born.
Now, 30 years later, Gulf Coast continues to be student run. With the exception of faculty editor and the guest art lies editor positions, all editor roles are held by students with a term of two years. This is an essential opportunity for students looking to expand their experience beyond writing and learn about the publishing world from an editing perspective.
The journal has risen to national relevance, and it shows in the numbers. There are 2,400 subscribers on average, with just under 2,000 located outside of Houston and Southeast Texas. Even with this connection to the national audience, local support is essential. “Having Houston programs and doing things for folks at home is really important,” says Adrienne Perry, whose tenure as editor ended in June 2016.
These Houston programs include a partnership with the Menil Collection to run MenilFest, a community festival dedicated to the arts and literature. This allows them to reach a broader community beyond those who subscribe to the journal. Gulf Coast also connects with audiences through monthly readings, often held at Rudyard’s Pub in Montrose. Lopate can attest to the importance of conducting readings, “As soon as you start to read something out loud, it’s like a truth serum. You realize, oh, that’s a weak line or that’s not going to work or that part’s pretty good or that got a laugh. And so, you’re really getting a lot of instant feedback.”
The journal makes key contributions to the writing community by offering prizes. The longest standing prize, the Gulf Coast Prize, is offered annually in the spring. The Barthelme Prize is offered for short prose in honor of one of the founding members, Donald Barthelme. The last and most recent prize is the Gulf Coast Prize in Translation. This is a very unique and much needed prize, as translation is an art in and of itself, and nationally there are only a small number of prizes for translators.
When looking back at a proud past, it can cause wonder about the direction of the future. “I think it’s headed in a great direction,” says Perry. “I think that the journal will become even more hybrid and diverse in the number of different writers and artists that it represents or that it publishes. I imagine that the work of the online journal, GC Online, will probably in the next couple of years, explode. And I think as we head into this 30th anniversary, it’s also a moment for Gulf Coast to think about the impact it has on the Houston community.”
For the Gulf Coast Journal, the presence of students at the helm has allowed it the flexibility to evolve and flow with what is happening in literature at the moment. And at this moment, the future is bright.