Monday, September 12, 2016

Swamp Ape Review: What It Means, How We Got Here, and the Narrative that We Hunt

I’m a nonnative Floridian. Like many of us here in the MFA (and many Florida-dwellers overall), I transplanted in favor of a great writing program, sunny skies, and sandy beaches. Part of that process involves what I think of as Florida initiation moments—key experiences where I learn a true quirk of Florida culture (e.g., the uncanny campus presence of iguanas in place of squirrels, hand-sized banana spiders next to walkways, hurricane season, the known-only-to-locals meaning of just “season,” unpredictable appearances of the word “y’all,” etc.) One such experience was my first encounter with the mythological Swamp Ape. Over a cold glass of beer, an MFA colleague enlightened me with the long-loved mystery of the Swamp Ape—a Florida-dwelling being that sustains an enigmatic and elusive existence in the Florida Everglades.

The myth of the Swamp Ape is what inspired the name of Florida Atlantic University’s first national online literary journal, founded and produced by students in the MFA at FAU. As the Managing Editor, I have the privilege of bringing the Swamp Ape legacy into a new format, and directing its embodiment in our inaugural issue, appearing January 2017.

Needless to say, this year has been a busy one for us. Our challenge was to take a vision for hybrid works (see more on this at our website,, and work it into existence with sweat, potlucks, and a pile of agendas and task calendars. Since January, we’ve been tackling all the practical business of running a journal: creating a temp logo and website, printing marketing materials for our submissions launch at AWP, outreach to artist markets and MFA programs soliciting their very best work, outlining staff responsibilities, reading more than 800 submissions (!), planning a launch party with big-name Skype-in readers… I may be biased (I likely am), but it’s been more fun than I ever imagined.

I’d like to credit the FAU MFA culture for that, as well as the drive we all have to create something new—something strange, exceptional, and alluring. Because we’re committed to our mission statement and niche, our hope is to build a community of artists—fiction, nonfiction, poetry, visual art, and “swamp” artists whose work defies a traditional genre—who are the best in their class and strive to capture that which we can’t explain. We are hunting a narrative as Floridians hunt the Swamp Ape; we want art that unsettles our assumptions of what is possible.

This month, we’re finalizing our decisions about what will be included in our inaugural issue. In upcoming months, we’ll be editing book reviews, hosting and interviewing top talent like Justin Torres, Ira Sukrungruang, Rebecca Makkai, Jennifer Egan, Victoria Fedden (an FAU MFA alumna), Elizabeth Powell, and Jensen Beach (who we also plan to take to the sandier-but-equally-mesmerizing Jensen Beach of the Florida coast).

For those of you who now (appropriately) want to get involved, we have options for you:
·         If you’re an FAU MFA student, attend our weekly meetings.
·         If you’re a writer/artist, watch for our submissions reopening in spring 2017.
·         If you’re attending AWP in February, stop by our table.
·         If you’re in another MFA program, watch your halls for our launch and submissions flyer, coming to a wall near you.
·         If you’re the social sort, follow us on Facebook (/SwampApeReview), Instagram or Twitter (@SwampApeReview).
·         If you’re just curious, check out our website and watch for our first issue at

It’s a good year to be a lit journal at FAU.

Natalie Rowland is an MFA candidate at Florida Atlantic University and the current Managing Editor of Swamp Ape Review (

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