Tahoma West: UW Tacoma’s Link to Literary and Visual Arts

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The 2014 edition of Tahoma West, UW Tacoma's annual student publication of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and visual arts. | Photo by Cody Char.Above photo: "Renewal" by Alison Pham, featured on the cover of the 2014 edition of Tahoma West.

With the amount of creative energy and talent running around campus on any given day, it will not come as a surprise that UW Tacoma has its own award-winning literary arts magazine. What is surprising, however, is how few students seem to know about it.

Tahoma West is UW Tacoma’s annual student-published literary arts magazine that features poetry, fiction, non-fiction and works of visual art. John Peterson, former UW Tacoma writing professor and winner of the 2002 Distinguished Teaching Award, started the magazine in 1996. In 1997, the publication released its first issue – which coincided with the opening of the current UW Tacoma campus. Not long after, the accolades began rolling in.

In 2001 and 2002, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs honored Tahoma West with the National Program Director’s Prize for undergraduate literary magazines. Since then, the springtime publication of a new issue has become an annual tradition on campus that deserves to reach more students than it does.

Tahoma West exists to give students, faculty and alumni the opportunity to see their creative endeavors in print. Since its inception nearly 20 years ago, the publication has expanded the types of student work it seeks. Submissions now go well beyond works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, to include photography and visual arts in other mediums. This year, the publication is seeking short plays or scenes of dramatic work for the first time.

One thing 2014-15 Editor in Chief Nicole McCarthy would like students and faculty to be aware of is Tahoma West as something more than an annual publication. “This year, my goal not only is outreach, but also hearing new voices, sharing new literary arts pieces and expanding and representing new art above the literary arts,” McCarthy says. “We would like to do art gallery nights. And we’re looking into getting space in the University Y Student Center to show some student art.”

As with years before, the editors and interns help organize events on and around campus to provide writers and poets a chance to collaborate, network and share their work with an actual audience. This year, McCarthy has made it her mission to collaborate with as many student groups as possible, to help get the word out to students and faculty. In October, Tahoma West teamed up with the UW Tacoma Student Activities Board to put on a “Sweater Weather” poetry night in the black box theater of Cherry Parkes. Overall, McCarthy found the collaboration with SAB to be an incredibly positive experience.

"Free," by Alison Pham, a work featured in Volume 18 of Tahoma West.“We had planned this since the end of August and we did every single step of the process together,” she says. “It was so wonderful how supportive their team was and how supportive the Tahoma West team was. In terms of the actual event, there were faces there I had never seen before at a Tahoma West event. The SAB name brought people that might not have come before and broke the idea in their minds what a poetry night would be. It was very intimate. It was nice hearing such a range of voices – and new voices, too.”

The success of the Tahoma West-SAB partnership has McCarthy eyeing other potential on-campus collaborations with the hope of generating even more buzz.

“I was talking to other groups who would like to collaborate. It was nice seeing other organizations come out and support Tahoma West.”

Gaining support from other groups across the UW Tacoma campus is paramount, as the publication is still reeling from having its budget eliminated completely earlier this year. McCarthy, who had recently shifted from poetry editor to editor-in-chief, was suddenly facing the very real prospect that Tahoma West had published its last edition.

“It was a shock to us certainly,” McCarthy recalls. “I think we were under the assumption we were safe. We were under the assumption that everybody knew how important Tahoma West is to the arts and the culture here on campus. We were shocked and angry, but it didn’t take us long before we snapped into action and figured out how we were going to fix this, because the magazine not existing was just not an option.”

In an effort to correct the issue, McCarthy and her staff entered into an appeals process with the Services and Activities Fee Committee (SAFC). In the process, it was discovered certain guidelines had been overlooked in the reduction of the magazine’s budget. According to McCarthy, “We found that if you’re going to make a drastic cut to an organization, you’re supposed to notify them ahead of time, and you’re supposed to invite the organization to a final deliberation meeting. These things didn’t happen.”

McCarthy and several other Tahoma West staff members brought this to the attention of the SAFC, which then agreed the previous decision should be reopened. After some deliberation, Tahoma West would live to see another edition in print.

“We took an 87 percent cut to our budget,” which, McCarthy explains, has required her staff to work on a volunteer basis. In terms of outreach, McCarthy says, “I’ve had to get really creative this year in terms of supplies and advertising. It’s been tough trying to figure out how we’re going to advertise and accomplish this goal of reaching out to the campus and the community at large without money to do posters or other advertising.”

Submissions for Volume 19 of the publication are due in December.Despite the setbacks and the challenges, McCarthy remains optimistic. “We’re still working around the obstacles, but I would say things are going really well right now. Could be better, but we’ve received a lot of support from other organizations, like SAB, for example.”

That support will be a key factor moving ahead, as McCarthy and the rest of the Tahoma West staff juggle submissions arriving before the December 20 deadline with upcoming events. At least one event will be focused on helping students prepare their submissions for possible publication in the 2015 edition of the magazine or elsewhere. “We’re planning on doing a prose workshop in November, where students can come with anything they’re working on and get some tips on improving it, or get some answers on how and where to submit outside of Tahoma West.“

McCarthy noted that Creative Colloquy, a local literary arts magazine with an emphasis on short fiction, expressed an interest in sending some of its staff to the prose workshop, to bring attention to the larger literary arts scene in Tacoma.

“We definitely want to have another open mic before we break for the holidays,” McCarthy says, before laying out some exciting plans for spring. “I know for sure that we’re going to do a huge poetry month in April. We’re going to have lots of events and collaborate with a lot of people on campus. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Written by: 
Kevin Yeoman / November 13, 2014
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, Communications, 253-692-4536 or johnbjr@uw.edu