GV’s ‘fishladder’ promotes student voices through art

Courtesy / GVSU Fishladder

Courtesy / GVSU Fishladder

Sarah Edgecomb

Since 1970, students at Grand Valley State University have submitted their work for publication to the university’s art journal, fishladder. Originally called Amaranthus and Italics, the journal seeks art, photography, drama, poetry and creative writing to promote student work and spark discussion. Fishladder is student-run, including submitters, editors and layout staff, with a new magazine released each April. 

The work submitted reflects the talent of GVSU’s students. Associate professor of writing and fishladder adviser Amorak Huey said that art journals give students the opportunity to display this work and share with their peers.

“On GVSU’s campus, as on any college campus, there are a ton of talented artists and writers producing new and exciting work. A campus journal is a way to showcase that work, to highlight what students are capable of creating,” Huey said.

Editor-in-chief Maria McKee voiced similar thoughts about fishladder’s importance to the GVSU community, referring to the vulnerability that comes with submitting personal work.

fishladder is representative of the intellectual and emotional work our campus is willing to do and that work certainly isn’t easy,” McKee said.

Each year, submissions are accepted through the fall semester, with editors reviewing work over winter break. Fishladder boasts editors in five genres who vote on pieces to be published. Assistant editor Aleigha Kely said that her interest in creative writing drove her to apply at fishladder, where she met other students with the same passion.

“I love the idea of giving creative people a space to be imaginative and have their work showcased. Fishladder offers all of those things,” Kely said. “It’s an extremely polished magazine that comes together every year through the hard work of students who have a passion for art and writing.”

For McKee, reviewing the content of her peers includes trust in her judgment. McKee said that a majority of the submissions for the 2019 edition focused on identity, and that care was taken to respect those identities in the process. 

“That the Grand Valley community trusted me with their work means the world to me, and I really hope to do these pieces justice,” McKee said.

Along with the unveiling this spring, an exhibition with selections from fishladder will be on display in the Kirkhof Center Gallery, a process that Huey said was based upon the student editors’ choices. He said that “what ends up in the display reflects the editors’ aesthetic values from among the best submissions” the journal received. The exhibition began March 8 and will continue through June 21. 

Both Kely and McKee emphasized the difficult choices that fishladder editors have to make when deciding on which pieces to publish and display for the exhibition; not all submissions can be accepted, with McKee citing this year as a record high. Despite the challenges, McKee said that working as an editor helps her improve her writing and learn from her peers, while Kely is grateful for the staff “who are generous with their time and energy.” McKee said the bond that fishladder fosters is due to the students who contribute.

Fishladder is community. There wouldn’t be a journal without the talented students who are ready to put their work into the world. There wouldn’t be a journal without the readers, reviewers and genre editors that consider each submission with careful thought,” McKee said.

McKee is set to graduate this spring after editing for fishladder since her sophomore year, with Kely taking over as editor-in-chief in the fall. 

“Submitting art and writing for publication is a vulnerable act, and creating a platform for student voices is the most enriching experience I could have asked for during my time at Grand Valley,” McKee said.

The unveiling of the 2019 edition of fishladder will take place April 19 at 6 p.m. in Lake Ontario Hall 164. Free copies of the magazine will be available, as well as artist talks and readings.