The Ivory Tower rises again

Undergrad literary mag has a history punctuated by famous folks, like Garrison Keillor

Don M. Burrows

This little publication has a past.

Yes, these are undergraduates at their literary magazine’s launch party. But these undergrads clearly know they’re part of something bigger, something older.

Jacob Ricker, one of two editors in chief, was a semester ago a mere student in a publication course. Together with his fellow staff members, he handed out $100 prizes to artists and writers whose work only yesterday was stalled on notebook paper and celluloid with little hope of publication.

Now that work adorns the slick pages of the Ivory Tower, a once-legendary force on campus whose turret has risen again, adorned once more with the poetry, prose and artwork of the University’s top student-artists.

“It’s a chance to get a lot of art out there that might otherwise be suffocated by what ‘aught’ to be published,” Ricker said to the crowd.

Indeed, the Ivory Tower is a 78-page monument to student work, both in its submissions and in its publication. The magazine was wrought by 20 journalism and English students in courses taught by professor Marge Barrett.

It contains 10 poems and the same number of artworks, plus a handful of fiction and nonfiction offerings. The back cover lists the two dozen contributors, chosen out of some 250 submissions. Its layout is comfortable, with plenty of white space.

“We wanted it to be very clean, very traditional,” explained Ricker between greeting guests.

In a rap session before the event, managing editor Stephanie Nero explained that the feel of magazines is one thing that draws her to them – how you can tell a cheap rag with cheap pages from a thicker, more elite publication. The Ivory Tower is the latter in appearance without trying too hard in its content. Part of that is the layout and the writing. Part of that is the name.

A celebrated past

When 20 students sat down last semester to brainstorm what to call the student art and literary magazine they would be publishing as part of Barrett’s course, they knew one name that wouldn’t work.

The Wayfarer, a previous embodiment of student writing at the University had “fallen into disrepute,” Ricker said to shrugging acknowledgement from the crowd at the Bell. An overhaul was necessary, starting with the name, and the students, aware of a storied campus publication from the 1950s and 1960s, immediately settled on reconstructing the Tower, as it was informally called then.

Patricia Hampl, an author and professor in the English department, was a writer for the publication in the 1960s. She remembers writing for the Tower when it still was stamped in linotype at a printer in downtown Minneapolis whose shop was above a potato chip factory.

Like other dreamy-eyed young journalists, she remembers the all-night editing process as a romantic time punctuated by bad takeout.

Hampl had worked as a cultural reporter for The Minnesota Daily, which at that time was fused with the Tower.

“The two were kind of wed administratively and economically,” she explained.

Every Monday, rather than the Daily, the Tower would publish with its more literary, satirical bent on the news. Cartoons and nonfiction essays were the norm, but by 1958, a poetry editor was added and the Tower became more of the highbrow publication today’s students have striven to imitate with its reincarnation.

In fact, several pages of the new Ivory Tower explaining its history attribute the Daily’s later features and current Arts and Entertainment sections to themed issues of the Tower that dealt with fashion, art and literature.

Hampl was an 18-year-old writer when invited by the Tower’s editor, a “large, hulky man” as she recounted it to the students, to be a writer for the Monday edition. Back then, the staff kept a white pillar in the office they had gotten from Dayton’s to symbolize their publication. She only later

revealed that the editor who had hired her was Garrison Keillor.

Ricker said he made an initial stop at the Daily to try to find out about the former incarnation of the Tower and was directed eventually to the university archives. There he found 16 years’ worth of issues, from 1953 to 1969, complete with the pop art covers that are included in the new issue.

The old publication quickly became a model for the new, in part because both had a common model they were imitating.

“His vision and the one we worked on all those years was a kiddie New Yorker,” explained Hampl of Keillor’s goals as editor then.

“That’s the same model we actually used,” Ricker added.

Ricker was assigned to research the old publications, and he chose the gallery of old cover pages that are included in the new issue, which he said were “archetypes of what most of the covers looked like back then.”

The current journal boasts on the front that it is volume 17, based on the previous 16 years of publication that Ricker found in his research.

“That’s sort of a shot in the dark,” he admitted. “Unfortunately, they didn’t volume their issues annually. Even if it’s not perfect, it gives it a sense of tradition.”

Regardless of the volume number, Hampl noted it is the name that will recall the tradition built 50 years ago.

“There’s a lot of people around for whom that name means something,” she said.

Getting started

The name really was the easy part. Finding the money and lining up the logistics of the publication was up to Alyson Sinclair, aside from Barrett the only nonundergraduate who had a hand in the new Ivory Tower.

As a creative writing graduate student and Barrett’s research assistant, Sinclair’s job was to cull together money from a combination of grants from the English and journalism departments and the Student Activities Office.

“We were nervous at first because we weren’t guaranteed to have funding for next year,” she said.

That changed. The money Sinclair lined up was used solely for the publication costs and the cost of promotions. Both Sinclair’s and Barrett’s salaries were covered because they taught the two 3000-level courses, Publications Editing and Literary Magazine Production and History. The student-editors and contributors worked for free. Sinclair said there is enough money for another annual publication next year.

Barrett said the publication probably will be distributed in the Coffman Union bookstore and also in coffee shops around campus. It is also available at the creative writing office in 222 Lind Hall, and is expected to feature an online edition.

For Ricker, the recognition for the new Ivory Tower belongs not only with the students who worked on it this year, but also with the scores of writers and editors who contributed to it back in the day.

“We want to make sure we give credit where credit it due,” he said. “We didn’t build the reputation. We’re building off the reputation.”