Books: Talking shop with the founder of Tennessee’s newest literary quarterly

Sunday, December 16, 2012 at 8:59pm
By Tina LoTufo Chapter16.org

In May 2011, Roy Burkhead was hit by a car at the intersection of Church Street and Second Avenue in downtown Nashville. (He was not seriously injured.) For many people, such an experience might spark musings on mortality, but for Burkhead it sparked thoughts of the literary journal he’d been planning for some time. “This event forced me to pause and look around,” he says. “I was interested to realize just how many different aspects of Nashville were represented from this particular spot of town: honky-tonks, small businesses, tourist shops, a government office or two and law offices. Maybe it was the impact of the bumper, but I started to ponder that this specific spot could work as a great metaphor, a virtual location in this actual city.” Burkhead published the first issue of 2nd & Church only one year later.

Burkhead is also the founder of The Writer’s Loft, a creative-writing program at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. As editor and publisher of 2nd & Church, he has assembled a crew of like-minded creative people to provide articles, interviews, poetry, flash fiction, book reviews, photographs and even columns on topics such as technical writing and songwriting. Highlights of the first edition include interviews with Nashville crime novelist J.T. Ellison and local writer and radio personality River Jordan, poetry by MTSU professor Alvin Knox, and articles on the Clarksville Writers’ Conference and Nashville’s Shakespeare in the Park program. The journal includes beautiful full-color photography, and its uncluttered page design enhances readability. Content is firmly focused on Tennessee, but production is a different story. “This is definitely guerrilla warfare publishing,” Burkhead explains. “The Web and editorial work are done in Nashville; the layout and design happen near the Gulf of Mexico; the fact-checker is out of Wisconsin; our columnists are mostly in Tennessee, except for one on the West Coast; and the journals are printed in Oregon.”

Although it was initially conceived as strictly a traditional — i.e., printed — journal, Burkhead soon realized that a digital option was crucial if he wanted to attract younger readers accustomed to instant gratification, and 2nd & Church is now available as a free download via its website. Print-on-demand technology allows readers to order a physical copy of the issue for $10, as well, but printing and shipping take a few days. “It’s a win-win, in terms of my old-world printing sensitivities and the 21st century’s online expectations,” Burkhead says. Free copies of 2nd & Church are also available at selected libraries, art centers, bookstores and cafes in Nashville, Knoxville, Cookeville, Dickson, Woodbury and Chattanooga. (See the website for a list of locations.)

J.T. Ellison is impressed by Burkhead’s dedication and determination: “It’s hard to start a magazine from scratch,” she says, “but he’s been unfazed by the challenges — rounding up fabulous articles, releasing regularly, networking and getting the magazine in stores from Nashville to Paris. He’s been rather amazing. It’s wonderful to have a Tennessee-based literary magazine.”

Burkhead admits to being pleasantly surprised at the response to 2nd & Church: “I had no idea how well it would be received,” he says. “The support from local writers, poets, bookstores, libraries, agents, publicists — everyone, actually — has been humbling and overwhelming.” Initial editions have proven so popular, in fact, that Burkhead has had trouble keeping distribution sites stocked. This comes as no surprise to fans, however. “2nd & Church is a first-rate affair,” says River Jordan. “That’s the kind of wonderful creativity I love to see spotlighted from Nashville. We are much more than only our country-music scene here.”

Burkhead is clearly delighted with the final product of so much planning and hard work. “Our greatest success is creating a product, a literary experience, that we are all proud to show anyone at any time,” he explains. “All of us at the journal decided to put quality over quantity and speed. Nothing in the process is more important than our writers or poets and the integrity of their words.” But he is most excited about the adventures yet to come: “My vision for 2nd & Church is simple: I want the reader to be able to sit on the back porch, have a glass of sweet tea, open the journal, and know that whatever is on the inside will be a satisfying experience.”

For more local book coverage, please visit Chapter16.org, an online publication of Humanities Tennessee.