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My First S.W.O.T. 

by Margaret Bauer, Editor

just lock this door…

During the pandemic, NCLR took advantage of our North Carolina Arts Council grant funds to hire outside consultant David Scruggs to guide me in strategic planning as we were working on our 30th annual print issue and thus looking ahead to our fourth decade. During one of our meetings – with the ECU English Department Chair Marianne Montgomery – David asked Marianne, “So what happens if Margaret gets COVID. How does NCLR’s 30th issue get published?” My chair/colleague/friend paused a moment and then responded candidly, “It doesn’t.” 

She was (is) right. So much of the daily operations of NCLR is all in my head. I have said repeatedly to more than one administrator, “If I get hit by a bus, just lock my office door, and throw away the key. NCLR is done.” Or, as the consultant put it as he and I developed the S.W.O.T. for my Strategic Plan Report, I am both NCLR’s greatest Strength (pardon the lack of modesty in repeating this) and its source of Weakness (its management is all in my head). (Stay tuned for what the O and T stand for, for those like me who never heard of a S.W.O.T. before this experience.) There is no other person on our largely volunteer faculty and transient student editorial staff who knows all we do on a day-to-day basis to not only produce now four issues a year but also to run now four annual creative writing contests to generate just some of the content for those issues. And so much more . . .  


Read on, if you will. 

I was fortunate to stay healthy during the pandemic lockdown, and the 30th issue was published, though given the circumstances of the times, with little of the fanfare we would have enjoyed for such an anniversary. Still, the strategic planning during the pandemic was enlightening and productive, as the Department and College administration and I realized we needed to work on sustainability during NCLR’s fourth decade. It is absolutely vital, the consultant reported, that we hire someone, full time, devoted to learning the basic operations of this award-winning North Carolina publication, before the current editor (yours truly) retires. We need time for me to pass on how it all works, so that the next editor has some backup.  

And that time is running out, as my body warned me a few weeks ago. 

Sunday, March 24, after a good workout, I reached down to pet one of my cats and suffered a back spasm that drove me to the floor for the next three hours. First, I thought I could wait it out, distract myself with one of the British mysteries I got addicted to during the pandemic, and the spasm would release. When that didn’t happen, my husband called in EMS. And after another hour, the compassionate (and patient) EMS woman in charge finally convinced me (also with the help of a morphine shot), to let them put me on a stretcher and take me into the hospital. After this first Emergency Room visit (there would be another a week later), I had to work from home for a week, and I used what short periods of time were relieved somewhat by medication to send feedback to my literature students on their most recent drafts to make up for cancelling the class during which we would have workshopped them. The NCLR student staff, alas, were left largely to work on their own. It was late March, and they have projects in progress, but they are students doing editorial work that is completely new to them. They are used to me being in the next room, able to step in to look at what they’re doing as they get started to make sure they’re on the right track or to troubleshoot with them if they get stuck.  

Our incredible Spring ’24 student staff with Editor Bauer
premiere spring issue

During my second week of convalescing, I went to campus long enough to teach my classes in person and have a few minutes before and after each to help the student staff in my office suite. But no surprise, I found myself compelled to stay longer each day to guide the students in catching us up on the print issue’s production, as it is due to the press in May. Just prior to my unexpected two-week debilitation, the Art Director had finalized the premiere spring online issue, which also needed to go out – and the only person who knows the full procedure for releasing an issue is, you guessed it, me. Yes, there are instructions, but our staff changes yearly, so only one of the student staff members has helped with this before and none of the volunteer faculty on the editorial staff. And, I had two grant proposals in process, with deadlines pending.  

Are you starting to get the picture? 

The editor’s first time back at the mic to introduce an author after lockdown

But on a more positive note, just a few days before my unexpected collapse, the morning of Pirate Nation Gives Day, I received the welcome news from Dean of ECU’s Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences Allison Danell that an anonymous donor had given $5000 to NCLR. (Thank you, whoever you are.) This kind of donation, added to another $5000 donation we receive annually, along with a few in the $1000 range, is exactly what we need right now as I worry about NCLR’s sustainability beyond my tenure as Editor. My back seems to be reminding us all that I am approaching retirement age (not there yet). As anyone who has ever talked with me about NCLR knows, I am absolutely passionate about our mission to preserve and promote North Carolina’s rich literary heritage, and I am in no hurry to retire, but eventually, it will be time to pass the reins to a new Editor with a new vision for this Pirate treasure.  

In the meantime, I am working with English Department colleagues and the College administration on developing NCLR into a living laboratory for ECU students interested in publication, which involves more faculty learning about all that we do. I am particularly encouraged by the Dean’s support of a new editorial faculty position for NCLR, which we hope to fill in time to start in the fall. I also appreciate the help I’ve received from ECU grant support staff as I’ve applied for several grants to supplement the modest operations budget that could not otherwise keep up with how much NCLR has grown during its 30+ year history:  

  • from an annual publication to a quarterly;  
  • from before literary magazines had websites to its now third website incarnation, which allows us to release new and archival content weekly;  
  • from pre-social media days to content shared daily on three social media platforms; 
  • from no contests to managing one for the North Carolina Writers’ Network, to creating two more with our North Carolina Literary and Historical Association funding, to adding a fourth sponsored (by the NC Poetry Society) creative writing contest;  
  • and most recently, to now managing the prestigious North Carolina Book Awards for the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.  

And note that this list does not include performing and tracking the numerous steps that come between submissions and publication of each and every essay, story, poem, interview, book review, photograph, and work of art we publish. Much of this work is done with our ECU student staff, including graduate student editorial assistants and undergraduate interns

Here we get to the O and T in NCLR’s S.W.O.T. In the current educational climate’s emphasis upon “pragmatic” programs of study, which Threatens perceived impractical subjects like creative writing and literature, ECU is providing Opportunities for students interested in these subjects, as well as in communications, graphic design, and, even business management (an MBA student with an interest in working in nonprofit work is interning with NCLR this semester) to develop valuable workplace skills and gain important experience to list on their resumes. 

Again, I want to say a HUGE THANK YOU to our anonymous donor during the recent ECU fundraising campaign and express my appreciation to all of our donors over our three-plus decades. And I want to let all of NCLR’s writers and artists know that we are working hard to seek grant funding to support and promote the gift you are to this state. I’ve said before that we are not only the writingest state, as Doris Betts said, but also the readingest state. And if there are other readers out there who can help in our efforts to support the sustainability of NCLR beyond my Editorship, the absolute privilege of my career, I promise you, your donations of any amount will be put to the best use:  

The mission of the North Carolina Literary Review is to preserve and promote writers who are a part of our state’s rich literary tradition. NCLR not only introduces new and emerging writers, but also reintroduces forgotten authors, who have influenced the culture and history of the Old North State. We showcase the work of North Carolina writers in literary criticism, interviews, book reviews, fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and literary news stories, and complement the writing with the work of North Carolina artists and photographers.” (NCLR mission statement)