With final exam season looming ahead, UTM students are gearing up to finish their pending assignments or cramming in a bit of studying in between their classes. The library is packed consistently and if you’re lucky enough, you might just be able to snag an empty study room. Deerfield Hall presents a similar scene. The tables are full, but it’s not hard to spot Myra Farooq sitting on a couch, wearing a red beanie. Farooq is in her fourth and final year of study at UTM, specializing in English and minoring in professional writing and communication. For the past two years, she has also been serving as the president of UTM’s creative writing club called UTM Scribes. On Friday March 23rd, Farooq and her team will celebrate the launch of their third volume of Slate, a magazine by the UTM Scribes, which presents the creative work of UTM students in the form of short stories, journal entries, poetry, and art.
The idea for forming a creative writing club at UTM was first presented to Farooq through a Facebook page. “Before the start of my first year at UTM, a guy named Joseph posted on UTM’s ‘accepted’ page for that year stating that he wanted to start a creative writing club. A few of us responded and then met up at the Square One library two weeks before classes started. We formed our constitution there,” Farooq laughs. The team juggled with assigning roles for quite some time. Farooq started off as the secretary and then transitioned to the role of vice-president for half a term. She was assigned presidency of the club in her third year and continues to fulfill that role. “Although I am the president, I consider myself and my two VPs as a team because we’re always doing things together,” says Farooq.
Slate was a dream that, according to Farooq, the whole team had, but didn’t become a reality until their second year. The magazine does not have a specific theme and accepts submissions from all disciplines. “The only criteria we have is that the content should have low sexuality and low profanity. Other than that, there are no specifications. In fact, the more ‘out there’ your piece is the better, because it allows us to represent UTM’s creativity. We encourage diversity,” Farooq states. The pieces, as she explains, aren’t categorized either. The magazine is a mix of poems, short stories, and other subjects in a random order, and as Farooq says, “We created chapters in the first volume, but the team and I didn’t feel comfortable putting things into categories.”
When asked about the roles that were required to make Slate a success, Farooq states, “We have our co-editors-in-chief who are in charge of managing the editing team. Then we have our own photographers and illustrators. We send the accepted pieces to them and they decide which ones they want to provide artwork for.
Up until now, we didn’t have a marketing director, so it was my job, along with my VPs Sasha and Sarena, to send out calls for submission and ensure that everybody knew we were accepting pieces for Slate.” Farooq also works with the graphic designer to make sure the cover is up to par with the Scribe’s vision. “In the beginning, most of us didn’t have much of a creative say in the design of the cover, but we wanted something that would look nice in somebody’s shelf. The feather theme works because it relates to the club’s logo,” says Farooq.
With the original team behind Slate all graduating this year, the idea was that if Slate were to end afterwards, then it should end as a trilogy. “We wanted to keep the cover design and the theme similar for all three issues in case we weren’t able to continue the magazine. The cover represents all of us who were there from the beginning. We’ve given next year’s team the freedom to change up the whole design or re-launch the Slate with a whole new look.” Apart from overlooking the design and layout, Farooq also works with Createspace in order to ensure that tiny details, such as page margins, quality of photos, and positioning of text are in proper order. However, as Farooq emphasizes, it is the editing team that deserves all the credit as they are the ones that ensure that everything is up to publishable standards.
This year the magazine received 80 submissions. “We could only afford to accept forty of them,” says Farooq. In response to the type of submissions received this year, Farooq describes, “We got a lot of historical fiction this year, and an equal amount of poems and short stories.” None of the pieces are outright rejected, instead submitters are requested to make suggested edits and re-submit. According to Farooq, “There’s no such thing as a bad piece. Either a piece needs lots of editing, or it needs very minimum editing. We work with the author to make their work fulfill our standards.” If a piece is not edited in time, the author is asked to re-submit the next year. However, authors can sometimes reject the edits made by the editing team, and Farooq says, “This is when it gets really hard. We can’t force them to make the edits so we have to omit their piece because it isn’t fair to everyone else.”
Once the magazine content is chosen, and the layouts are created, the team conducts a four-to-five hour proof-reading session in order to polish the magazine before it gets sent for printing. “It’s a really fun experience because there are always pieces that one or two of members can relate to. We have discussions about these pieces,” says Farooq.
The manuscript is then sent off to be published and the copies usually arrive a few days before the launch date.
“Last year the copies arrived two-and-a-half months late. It was a nightmare. We only had the proof copy to show to our guests at the launch.” This year, the copies have arrived two weeks early. Farooq concludes the interview with her sentiments regarding the Slate now that she’s graduating this year. “From starting university with no creative writing club on campus, to having the Scribes and three volumes of Slate published and being interviewed for all our work—it’s surreal. We’ve all put so much efforts into everything and I’d really like to say that it was a collaborative effort.”