The new West Marin Review

09/20/2012

Literary journals are always a labor of love, and the West Marin Review is no exception. The fourth edition of the sleek little volume has just been published by a small all-volunteer staff. It took two years to produce.

“It’s a huge amount of work,” Doris Ober, the review’s editor, said. “The book is so beautiful, and we’re all so proud of it. It’s challenging and ultimately really satisfying to work as a team on this
project.”

The current edition of the review features prose, poetry and full-color art. Inside a cheerful cover—a painting teeming with insects—readers find a broad spectrum of work. Authors range from local schoolchildren to renowned poets such as Jane Hirshfield and Robert Hass. Most contributors are from the area, but some live as far away as Europe.

Ms. Ober said the team at times faced unexpected situations, such as when they got a submission from a prominent writer. “Just because of who it was we wished we could publish it, but it wasn’t good enough, in our humble opinions,” Ms. Ober recounted. “So we had to say no to a very well established writer, which was terribly embarrassing.”

The review process is a rigorous one. Submissions are considered by three groups, one each for prose, poetry and visual art. The five volunteers reviewing the prose, for example, read and took notes on more than 600 pages of work—after which they had to agree on which pieces to accept, and then work with the selected authors on additional editing. And once the book was finally assembled it had to be proofread. Numerous times.

“I would say we’re all putting hundreds of hours into this,” Ms. Ober said. “We really are trying to look out for what is—in our sensibility—the best, and we really try to stick to it.”

That effort paid off in 2009 when the magazine won a New York Book award for its design.

The idea for the West Marin Review grew out of a conversation between Point Reyes Books owner Steve Costa and Inverness Park resident David Miller in 2006. The two men were reminiscing about Estero and Floating Island, older literary magazines that were by then out of print. Curious whether the community had interest in starting a similar project, they advertised a meeting. Forty people showed up, and the review was on its way.

“This village is pretty unique in light of the fact that there are a lot of literary journals out there but not any that are tied to a particular geography,” Mr. Costa said. “There’s also not another independent bookstore in the country that publishes a literary journal, and so that’s pretty unique as well.”

A reading inside Toby’s Feed Barn on Sunday showcased the quality for which the magazine strives. Authors shared selections of their work as a breeze blew the smell of hay and espresso across the audience and rustled paper panels that hung from the rafters. There were many readers from San Francisco or beyond, but all voiced their fondness for West Marin—and for the little literary journal that “captures all of us in a net,” as poet Donald Bacon of Tomales put it.