Alumni Profile: All Lit Up

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Alumni Profile: All Lit Up

All Lit Up
By Alyssa Ford

When Jamie Millard, Regan Smith, and Meghan Suszynski graduated from the University of Minnesota, they knew that landing an editorial assistantship at a publishing house or a literary magazine—especially in such a dour recession—would be as rare as winning a Pushcart Prize.

Left to right: Meghan Suszynski, Jamie Millard, and Regan Smith - Photograph by Jayme Halbritter
“We could have each done five unpaid internships and then, maybe, if we were really lucky, gotten jobs doing copyediting for $25,000 a year,” says Millard (B.A. ’09), who came to the U from Dallas on a full-ride scholarship to study Latin. “But we just kind of decided that, if we were going to work for free, we wanted to do what we wanted to do.” Smith (B.A. ’09) puts it another way: “We were sick of unpaid internships.”

So the three launched their own feisty literary magazine, dubbed Paper Darts after Virginia Woolf’s collection of private letters. The title was Suszynski’s brainchild. “You have to be a kind of nerdy English major to love Virginia Woolf, and I do, I love her,” says Suszynski (B.A. ’09), the creative director who is also an oil painter and avid fan of Edith Piaf, the French singer.

For the first edition of Paper Darts, in December 2009, the women printed all 500 copies on their home printers, burning through a pile of ink cartridges, and sewed the pages together on Suszynski’s trusty Singer sewing machine. After that, they switched to a print-on-demand magazine service.

The magazine, unlike most literary titles, has a huge array of written and graphic art, including surreal, wordplay-heavy poetry, three-dimensional paper art, and Q&As with independent book publishers—and it’s a visual feast. “Paper Darts looks like one of those glossy [consumer] magazines that people actually buy,” says Maggie Ryan Sandford, a fiction writer and journalist whose short story was featured in volume 3.

Smith, Millard, and Suszynski are 23, 24, and 25 years old, respectively, but they are not wed to the idea of publishing only young

A peek inside a recent issue of Paper Darts
or emerging artists. Almost all they have featured so far are established. Many, like poet Alex Lemon (M.F.A. ’03), have been published for a decade or more. “Sometimes underground zines and mags are militantly underground and will never feature anyone that’s any kind of a name,” says Daniel Slager, publisher and CEO of Milkweed Editions in Minneapolis. “But the Paper Darts team seems to be intent on publishing what they like.”

The threesome met while working on Ivory Tower, the U’s student literary magazine. They credit instructor Terri Sutton (M.F.A. ’03) with giving them their first taste of creative control and helping inspire their maverick attitudes toward publishing. “We think of those issues [of Ivory Tower] as a kind of baby Paper Darts,” says Millard.

As the trio worked to build up their fledgling magazine, they plunged into the wild terrain of social media, building highly active Twitter and Facebook feeds, and creating a series of marketing gimmicks, including renting a storefront where they hosted readings every night for a week and peppering Uptown Minneapolis and the U campus with cardboard flyers small enough to fit in a back pocket but stiff enough to give you a poke in the rear when you sit down. Their most successful event was hosting an issue launch party at the hip Minneapolis nightclub Honey that drew more than 300 people. “There weren’t even 300 people at Barnes & Noble when Jonathan Franzen came to town,” says Sandford.

To make budget, the women each contribute about $1,000 per issue. Suszynski takes on extra freelance graphic design gigs, Smith shelves books at the U’s forestry library, and Millard skims from her salary at the Charities Review Council. Then, as the issues slowly sell from their website and via hipster-minded Twin Cities shops such as Micawber’s, Big Brain Comics, and the Electric Fetus, they pay themselves back. Millard, the business brains of the operation, keeps track of the money on detailed spreadsheets. Three unpaid staff members help out with design, production, editing, marketing, and distribution.

At this point, they haven’t been able to achieve their dream of paying contributors. But they do have an accomplishment that many highbrow literary magazines can’t claim. “We are very proud of the fact that we have never lost money on Paper Darts,” says Suszynski. Smith, who grew up believing she would be a hockey player, not an editor, says they often dream of having an office. In the meantime, they’re at work on Volume 4, which they hope to complete by the end of this year.

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