Everything You Wanted to Know about Gandy Dancer But Were Afraid to Ask: An Interview with Faculty Advisor Rachel Hall

Posted by Rachael Kelly, GD CNF Reader for 3.2

Creative nonfiction reader Rachael Kelly chatted with GD’s very own Rachel Hall to get an in-depth look at the past, present, and future of Gandy Dancer.

Rachael Kelly (RK): What are three of your favorite things about being the faculty advisor for Gandy Dancer?

Rachel Hall

Rachel Hall

Rachel Hall (RH): There are so many things that I love about teaching the Editing and Production Workshop and being the Gandy Dancer faculty advisor. It’s great to work with the class and staff to build something together. As a writing teacher, I’m often in the position of critiquing students’ work, slapping grades on their efforts, so that it can feel as if we are on opposite sides of the enterprise: Critic versus writer. But with Gandy, we’re working together to build something and I love that collaborative work. And I get to see talents the students have that might not show up in a regular classroom, skills like social media savvy or an eye for design. I also love seeing the journal come together—each semester, it feels a bit magical, though, of course, there is lots of hard work involved. That may be four things, but all are important!

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RK: Are you ever surprised by the variety of submissions Gandy Dancer receives? 

RH: It’s been really interesting to see what students are doing at other schools in terms of content and approach. There’s an exciting variety, which makes selection fun—and challenging. It’s a great opportunity to get the class talking about personal taste versus quality.

RK: Gandy Dancer currently has five semesters under its belt. Can you tell me a few things that have changed over time, besides the editors?

RH: Gandy Dancer began as an online journal, and that seemed fine. But since our second issue, we’ve been available in print too, which is even more fun. What else? We are getting more submissions from beyond Geneseo, so that means the word is out and that’s exciting. We’ve done something new in each issue, so 2.1 was available in print, the 2.2  included original music, and our 3.1 included a translation. From the start, though, we’ve included author interviews and with issue 2.1, we began including a book review of that that author’s work. We want to continue that tradition. We’re excited to include a graphic memoir in the forthcoming issue.

RK: What are some important things you have learned from the editors and students involved in Gandy Dancer?

RH: This is a good question, but hard to answer because I’ve learned so much. The students have taught me a lot about social media and how we can use it to create a community around Gandy Dancer. I don’t have an art background, though I’ve spent a lot of time in museums and around artists. It’s been great to learn from the student art editors each semester. In fact, I’ve been inspired to take some art history classes in the future.

RK: In your opinion, why should writers and artists submit their work to literary journals like Gandy Dancer?

RH: Most writers want an audience—and we provide one! But beyond that it’s also great experience to ready a manuscript for submission, to learn about cover letters and appropriate format, and it makes writers pay attention to audience in a whole new way. Many of our former contributors have gone on to publish in national literary journals since appearing in Gandy, which suggests Gandy is: a) selecting quality work and b) providing a good jumping-off point for young writers.

RK: What was your inspiration in creating a class like ENGL 426 to create the beloved Gandy Dancer? Was it always in your agenda to receive submissions from all SUNY schools?

RH: I always wanted our program to have a sophisticated literary journal like the ones I’d been involved with in college, but we didn’t have a budget for that. As soon as I understood the power of online journals, the money issue fell away. Once I was converted to the online platform, the obvious next step was to reach beyond Geneseo to the entire SUNY. There are national undergraduate literary journals, but I don’t know of another system-wide literary journal.

RK: Out of the five issues, which one is your favorite? And why?

RH: This is an unfair question. I love them all the same. Ha ha!

RK: What are some struggles the group/journal has faced during the last two and a half years?

RH: Starting up, it was difficult to get many submissions, but we’re amazed with the quality of the work we’re getting now—and the numbers of submissions. Until this semester, we’ve changed our technology every semester, which was hard and made things uncertain. Now we know what we’re doing with InDesign, Submittable and WordPress. That’s a huge relief!

RK: How did you, personally, start or decide to become a writer?  

RH: I’ve been writing since I was little, but I got serious in college.  My roommate signed up for a fiction writing class and I sort of copied her—and that class changed my life. I’ve been writing ever since. This roommate, by the way, is a writer and teacher in Oklahoma, and we continue to share our work, though now we do it by email.

RK: Who were the writers you admired most when you first began writing? Which authors most excite you now as a reader?  

RH: The text book for that first writing class I took in college was Matters of Life and Death, edited by Tobias Wolff, and the stories collected there are still some of my favorites. There, I encountered Ann Beattie, Raymond Carver, Jayne Anne Phillips, Jean Thompson, some of the most important contemporary writers. I hadn’t encountered contemporary writers before this. In high school, we read the classics or if we read contemporary stuff, it was science fiction, so that anthology was eye-opening for me. Writers I love to read and who inspire me as I write: Alice Munro, Lorrie Moore, Edwidge Danticat, Robin Black, Tim O’Brien, Andrea Barrett, Andre Dubus, Antonya Nelson, William Trevor, John Updike, William Maxwell, to name a few.

RK: What advice would you give to other writers, readers, and contributors to Gandy Dancer?

RH: Read, read, read!

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