Photo illustration by Justin Morrison/Inside Higher Ed | Smb51095/Wikimedia Commons | Lauren Hohle
News that The Gettysburg Review was shutting down came as much of a shock to the literary community as it did to its two editors.
When Editor in Chief Mark Drew and Managing Editor Lauren Hohle were called into a meeting late last month with administrators at Gettysburg College, where the professional literary magazine is based, they weren’t sure if it was simply to meet the new provost—whose office oversees the magazine—or for something more substantial.
When they arrived, they learned that the magazine was ending production—and they would lose their jobs.
“I think what was surprising, truly surprising, about the meeting was the style with which it was done,” Drew said. “It was very corporate … we were given very little rationale. It was one of those kinds of brutal firings that you only see in movies.”
The Review’s X feed shared the news the following Wednesday, prompting surprise and outrage from authors, readers, editors and Gettysburg alumni around the world.
“Oh no! I interned there in 1993 and have been a subscriber ever since. I am so sad and so sorry. I’ll get in touch with the president to let him know how disappointed I am as a reader, alum and donor,” one user replied to The Review’s post.
“[Gettysburg College] should be saving art, not banishing it,” wrote another. “What’s the point of a liberal arts college if your funding isn’t supporting a prestige literary journal?”
The Gettysburg Review ranks among the most well-respected literary magazines in the United States, publishing fiction, essays, poetry and visual art. The long list of renowned authors who have appeared in its pages includes Joyce Carol Oates and E. L. Doctorow. Former U.S. poet laureate Rita Dove and Pulitzer Prize winner Philip Schultz are both advisory editors for the journal, which comes out three times a year.
Gettysburg president Bob Iuliano told Inside Higher Ed in an interview that the literary magazine was discontinued as part of a larger change in the college’s strategy that aims to put increased resources toward “student experiences” and “student outcomes.”
The university has funded the journal almost entirely, at a cost of about $200,000 each year, Hohle said—though it also receives an annual grant from the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts that has risen in recent years from $6,000 to $26,000. The magazine makes some money through subscriptions and submission fees, but not enough to keep it afloat. (This paragraph has been updated to reflect the current annual cost of production.)
Iuliano acknowledged that while The Review is “a superb literary journal, does really extraordinary work … its purpose is not the education of students.” He said the funds earmarked for the journal could be put toward something that more directly supports Gettysburg’s student-centered mission.
But Hohle, Drew and many of The Review’s former interns disagree. Up to six students work for the journal each year, gaining what they say are valuable insights into the process of producing a magazine without having to spend 10 weeks interning at a publications in a pricey literary hub like New York City.
“The internship is like a class, and it is, in a lot of ways, self-directed in that if students are interested in particular kinds of stories or particular aspects of the process, we can kind of add more activities to tailor it to them, which sounds very student-centered to me,” Hohle said.
Susanna Mills, a 2018 Gettysburg graduate, is now the editor in chief of The American Philatelist, a 100-page print monthly for the nation’s stamp-collecting foundation, the American Philatelist Society. She said she learned much of what she knows about running a publication from her time working as an intern—and later an office assistant—at The Review.
“There were very hands-on things like … ‘here’s how the printing process works, here are the conversations you need to be having with your printers, here are the conversations you need to be having with your subscribers,’” she recalled. “I come from a lower-middle-class background. I did not have any disposable income; my parents were not able to send me to NYC in order to land a prestigious internship with a publishing company. If this had not been available to me, I never, ever, ever would have had the chance to get that experience.”
Iuliano said that Gettysburg’s student literary magazine, The Mercury, which publishes work by Gettysburg students, is still available to those who want to experience the process of creating a magazine.
Underappreciated by Admin?
To Drew and Hohle, the college’s lack of regard for The Review was evident even before they learned the magazine would be discontinued. They said officials rarely, if ever, leveraged the magazine’s acclaim or unique internship program to entice students to attend Gettysburg. The editors said If they’d been asked to figure out how to adjust the magazine’s operations to contribute more to the college’s new teaching-and-learning–centric mission, they would have happily done so.
But it appeared officials had already decided the journal’s fate ahead of the Sept. 29 meeting, the editors said. When they argued that they were in the middle of producing an issue, for which they had already finalized author contracts, administrators agreed to allow them to publish one last edition. The editors also said they told Iuliano they would have to refund subscribers.
“They did not seem to understand that … we’re always making a magazine, there’s an issue always in progress,” Hohle said.
Iuliano disputed the idea that the magazine’s demise came as a surprise.
“The question of how The Review fits into the college’s broader ecosystem is not a new one. It’s one that has been raised historically. So, ultimately, when we made the decision, we made the decision understanding the history, understanding the current priorities of the college, and conveyed that,” he said. “But as you will note, it’s not like we closed it instantly. We were trying to make sure that we were being respectful both to them, and to the authors, the interns this semester, and so we engaged the editor in a conversation about how to do this transition as effectively as possible.”
On social media, several people expressed surprise that the university would want to get rid of such an asset.
“A top-five literary magazine being shuttered because it doesn’t provide value to its college?” Lynne Nugent, an Iowa-based writer, posted to X. “Au contraire, I would not have heard of [Gettysburg College] if not for [The Gettysburg Review].”
The Magazine’s Future
Literary journals based at colleges and universities are often seen as more stable than independent publications because they have a reliable funding source. Even so, other college-affiliated professional literary magazines have faced closure in the past—though some have been saved by last-minute community support or outside acquirers.
After the University of Nevada at Las Vegas sold The Believer, a literary magazine that had been housed in its Black Mountain Institute, to a marketing firm in 2021, backlash erupted, prompting the new owner to make the choice to sell it on the cheap back to its original publisher, McSweeney’s. When the University of Alaska at Anchorage cut a number of liberal arts programs in 2020, including the creative writing master’s program, it also axed its small but mighty literary magazine, The Alaska Quarterly Review, CNN reported. But the editor in chief continues to run the magazine as an independent publication, funding it through grants and donations.
Other college-affiliated literary magazines are struggling to maintain their footing. Purdue University’s Sycamore Review has been on the chopping block since 2021, when English department faculty decided they would eliminate the creative writing master’s program, whose students have always edited the journal (though it publishes the work of professional writers). While the journal is still publishing issues, its X account prominently features a post announcing, “The future of Sycamore Review is in peril, and we need you to make a little noise.” Purdue’s creative writing M.F.A. is slated to end in spring 2024, along with the literary magazine.
“The pausing of the MFA program was a faculty decision, made after months of deliberation among my colleagues in English,” Alfred J. López, the interim head of Purdue's English department, told Inside Higher Ed in an email. “We hope to be able in due course to relaunch a Creative Writing MFA at Purdue University that will be as vibrant and brilliant as ever.”
Hohle and Drew don’t know if there is any hope of continuing The Gettysburg Review as an independent entity or under another institution. Though they have heard rumblings on social media about people interested in contributing monetarily to the publication, it’s not something they can facilitate themselves, as they do not own The Review.
They also are unsure whether the magazine’s well-recognized title could be carried over to another institution.
“The best proposition is finding somebody to underwrite it and endow it and keep it here and keep it still doing the job,” Drew said, “and actually have it become a part of the elevator speech about all of the wonderful specialty programs and things that make this place unique.”