Since 2001, SHARK REEF online literary journal has offered a venue for writers whose perspectives are often overlooked in the mainstream. There you find voices that are strong, not driven by publishing trends, and nuanced with a kind of truth that comes with first-hand experience. Published twice yearly at sharkreef.org, the journal includes fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, as well as visual art. Although SHARK REEF has undergone a few changes in its history, one of its founders, Lorna Reese, has continued to provide leadership to give serious writers a place to see their work published.
For the past four years, I’ve been honored to serve as the journal’s publisher, focused on promotion of SHARK REEF among readers and writers. One way to do that is with this interview with founder and managing editor, Lorna Reese.
Iris: Although there are dozens (maybe hundreds?) of literary journals in existence today, when SHARK REEF began in 2001, the pool, particularly of online journals, was much smaller. What prompted you and the other founders to dive into these waters?
Lorna: At the time, it seemed that writers grew on the trees on Lopez Island, WA where we live, and literary websites were beginning to appear on the Internet. My co-founders and I didn’t think it through; we just said “let’s start a literary magazine for all the Lopez writers.” We wanted to provide a place for their work to be published. SHARK REEF has evolved significantly since those early days, and submitters now come from all over the globe.
Iris: The journal’s name, SHARK REEF, also is the site of a Lopez Island nature sanctuary with sweeping views of San Juan Channel and the Olympic Mountains beyond. Why did you give this name to the magazine?
Lorna: We initially thought of calling the magazine “Sirens” but found that name was already in use on a porn site! So, one of our founders brought a list of names for us to consider, some of them place names on Lopez. It came down to either Jasper Bay or Shark Reef, and we chose the latter because it had a bit of “bite” to it. A couple of years later, when we decided to publish a paperback book of selections from the first several issues of SHARK REEF, the name Currents seemed appropriate.
Iris: Now in its fifteenth year, SHARK REEF’s tenure is rather unusual in the literary journal world. To what do you attribute the magazine’s longevity?
Lorna: I would say stick-to-it-iveness and hunger for good writing, as well as the magazine’s growing reputation over the years. Even the fact that we are still here while other magazines have disappeared is testimony to how writers and readers view SHARK REEF. It’s really a labor of love.
Iris: Another unique aspect of SHARK REEF is its combination of visual art with writing. What led the founders of the journal to include visual art?
Lorna: Just as it seemed writers grew on the trees here, so did artists, and we wanted to encourage their creative endeavors as well. We’re very proud to be able to support both kinds of art.
Iris: How would you describe SHARK REEF’s typical readers and contributors?
Lorna: I don’t know that there IS a typical reader or contributor. I’ve noticed over the years that submitters have more “credentials” than in the early days, which must mean something. It might be fun to do a survey someday. I will say, however, that judging from submitter’s bios, they are accomplished and hardworking writers, and I imagine many of our readers are also writers.
Iris: I know that your work with SHARK REEF has its challenges, but that it’s also rewarding. What are some of the pleasures for you in producing the journal?
Lorna: Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to work with several co-editors for both prose and poetry, and that’s a great pleasure. Right now, I’m privileged to have a brilliant young writer, Jeremiah O’Hagan, as my prose co-editor and Gayle Kaune and Richard Widerkehr selecting the poetry. Both poets are widely published, and Richard recently told me that selecting the poems helps his own work. I also feel exhilarated by responses to submitters who receive a “yes” from us. Many are so excited and grateful, and I love that I played a part in getting them published.
Iris: How has your work with SHARK REEF influenced you as a reader and a writer?
Lorna: To be honest, my working with SHARK REEF has made it harder for me to focus on my own writing. On the other hand, I continue to love being a kind of “midwife” to emerging writers.
Iris: What are your hopes for SHARK REEF over its next fifteen years?
Lorna: We hope to start using Submittable later this year to ease what is, for us, a labor-intensive submission process. We’ve had several Pushcart nominees among our submitters, and we’ll likely start entering some of the writing we publish. We’ve already featured writers who have gone on to become published authors, and I hope we’ll continue to be a springboard for other emerging writers.
Iris: Think back to the beginnings of SHARK REEF. What was it like for you in June 2001 when Issue One went live?
Lorna: We introduced the first issue to Lopez on the big screen at our local community center, Lopez Center for Community and the Arts. We were proud and excited and felt we were on the brink of something. Of what, we didn’t know.
Obviously, Lorna and the other SHARK REEF founders were onto something—a source for writers, visual artists, and readers to be inspired, recognized, and supported. Here’s to many more years of literary and artistic excellence such as you’ll find in the current issue of SHARK REEF.