Fence journal moves to Writers Institute

By PAUL GRONDAHL, Staff writer
First published: Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The literary journal Fence, which has published both emerging and established writers such as Annie Dillard and Rick Moody since 1998, is moving from New York City to the New York State Writers Institute at the University at Albany.

Under the agreement, Fence's founding editor, Rebecca Wolff, will become a paid UAlbany staff member and will work out of an office in the Writers Institute's suite a few days a week.

"It's a dream realized," said Wolff, 39, who lives in Athens, Greene County. "To be elevated into having a salary for the first time to do something that I love is mind-blowing."

Wolff and writer friends from Bennington College and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Jonathan Lethem and Matthew Rohrer, started Fence in the living room of Wolff's Greenwich Village apartment.

They published it on a shoestring. Nobody got paid.

"It was founded out of a dissatisfaction with commercial publishing," she said.

After Wolff and her husband, novelist Ira Sher, moved from Manhattan to Greene County and started a family -- their children are 2 and 4 -- it became more difficult for Wolff to juggle earning a living and managing Fence.

"It got really stressful trying to do both," she said.

The connection between Fence and UAlbany came through Lynne Tillman, a novelist who lives in Greenwich Village and has taught a spring fiction workshop as writer-in-residence at UAlbany since 2002.

Tillman is fiction editor of Fence.

"It's a wonderful conjunction because the aims of both Fence and the Writers Institute are similar in that they want to present different kinds of writing and writers," Tillman said.

Tillman helped put the parties in touch and negotiations got under way.

"Having a great publication to work with us is like a dream come true," said Donald Faulkner, director of the Writers Institute. "There's a spirit of common ground and good energy."

Faulkner praised Susan Herbst, UAlbany provost and officer in charge, for sealing the deal. Herbst previously taught at Northwestern University, where Faulkner was an undergraduate student, and both concurred on the far-reaching and positive impact for Northwestern by having TriQuarterly Review based there.

"She quickly saw the value that a good literary publication like Fence could have for the University at Albany and how it could add to the literary enterprise of the Writers Institute," Faulkner said.

UAlbany graduate and undergraduate students will have opportunities to work as interns with Wolff and Fence staffers.

Fence publishes two issues each year, with a print run of 3,000 copies. About 2,000 go to paid subscribers and the rest are distributed to bookstores and newsstands. Fence also has a book-publishing arm.

Fence has a reputation in the literary world that belies its limited commercial success. It has published Jorie Graham, John Ashbery, Adrienne Rich, Paul Muldoon, and Robert Coover.

Tillman said the modus operandi of Fence sets it apart from other literary journals.

"We work from the slush pile and don't require that manuscripts come through agents," Tillman said. She estimated about 300 short stories arrive unsolicited each month, forming what's known in literary circles as the "slush pile."

Contributors are paid in copies. There's no shortage of writers willing to work for free.

"There are a lot people out there, all across the country, writing away and doing really great and original work," she said.

Paul Grondahl can be reached at 454-5623 or by e-mail at pgrondahl@timesunion.com.

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