Our Spring 2022 interns, John Vaaler and Eleanor Pontikes, sat down to chat about their experience at NER.
Eleanor: Okay, I think we’re rolling!
John: Eleanor, tell me about what led you to the New England Review.
E: I vividly remember walking into a professor’s office back during my second semester at Middlebury, and I came to show her something I was working on and ask for advice on how to become a writer. She had many great recommendations but one of them was to get an internship at the New England Review. I participated in the reading submissions group for a few years and here I am during my senior year!
Tell me about your path here, John!
J: I love writing film and book reviews, and wanted to get the inside scoop on the publishing process. My advisor, Jay Parini—who cofounded NER—recommended the job, and I am so glad I got to intern this Spring.
I didn’t realize going into the internship the amount of work it takes to keep a publishing house or literary journal on its feet. It’s not just editing: there’s fact-checking, contract work, design.
E: I was also surprised that we pay our authors since not many literary journals compensate authors for their work. The administrative side of the journal was also fascinating to me, and I enjoyed working with Eli on the various platforms involved in the process of publishing.
J: I didn’t know how many drafts and rewrites go into a story before it’s ready for publication, or how collaborative the editing process is between NER and its authors. I assumed it was more like submitting a letter to the New York Times, where the editors might be the main tinkerers of the submission after you send it in. It’s a very collaborative process and I didn’t appreciate that until working here.
One favorite task in the office is reading the mail-in submissions, which are often especially lively.
Eleanor, tell me what stuff you are involved with on campus.
E: I’ve definitely overextended myself this semester! But I run the Women’s Club Soccer team, am president of the fly fishing club, MiddFly, and am a senior editor of Clover Magazine, Middlebury’s first fashion publication.
To create some balance between work and extracurriculars, I love going to the gym and walking around town. I usually treat myself with a latte every morning too. I think going to different coffee shops with friends has been one of my favorite self-care rituals this semester.
What about you, John?
J: I sometimes contribute to the Middlebury Campus. I’m a member of our Omega Alpha Social House, where I used to be the social chair. I am also a peer writing tutor at the CTLR (Center for Teaching Learning and Research), where I help freshmen students with their papers. A lot of the work I do with their papers is teaching them not so much to write well, but rather how to write well in an academic context. It’s a skill and not a talent, so it’s pretty great just helping all of these really brilliant first years make their first steps as academic writers. And I, too, love to go to coffee shops with friends.
E: And what’s your favorite one?
J: Little Seed.
E: I’ve found I enjoy different coffee shops for different needs. I go to Little Seed when I need to sit and work for hours, Haymaker when I want to talk to friends for hours, and Royal Oak when I need a break from everything!
Are you reading anything for fun right now?
J: Finals are looming, so I really shouldn’t be reading anything . . . but yes, I am making my way through Temporary Kings, the penultimate book in Anthony Powell’s bittersweet, very funny A Dance to the Music of Time series. He’s a little like Dostoyevsky . . . Dostoyevsky by way of Wodehouse. The characters often think they’re living in a tragedy, but the series is obviously comic.
What have you been reading?
E: I was traveling this weekend and started Mary Oliver’s Upstream. I’ve read various poems of hers through my time in the Environmental Studies department but it’s been lovely reading this collection in its entirety.
John: I love her poem “Wild Geese.”
E: “Attention is the beginning of devotion” has always stuck with me. Oliver’s keen observation of humanity and the natural world compel me as both a reader and writer.
J: What is your ideal reading environment?
E: I think this office deserves some credit in this interview because it’s such a cozy, warm place! Overall, my ideal reading environment is just comfy enough so I don’t fall asleep because the Davis library chairs are way too comfortable, and I fall asleep every time I’m in there.
But ultimately, I need to have a cushioned seat and a drink in hand while reading—coffee or tea, of course.
J: I am a believer in what Virginia Woolf once said: You have to read alone in a room of your own. But there are exceptions to Woolf’s rule. The other day I was waiting for a friend in Two Brothers Tavern, and I read some of Temporary Kings for a few minutes. Reading Anthony Powell in a bar is an interesting experience. A lot of the characters in his novels do that sort of thing more frequently than they probably should.
E: What is your favorite task here in the office?
J: My favorite task was copyediting the pieces we published on the website. After reading some of them in the reading group last summer, it was a real treat to see NER authors get the publicity their incredible work deserves.
E: I think my favorite task was doing the author book posts every month. Every month we post new releases from authors who’ve been published in NER. This past weekend, I wandered through a bookstore in Colorado and saw Ocean Vuong’s Time is a Mother featured in their “New and Noteworthy” section. I wrote about his new poetry collection for the April new book post. NER authors are so talented and it’s a rewarding experience to have even a small role in their path to success, one that maybe began with the New England Review. Gosh, it also makes me want to read and read and read! (And then maybe one day write my own “New and Noteworthy” book!)
You’re graduating in a few weeks! Any plans for the summer and what’s to come?
J: I’m moving to New York and starting a job at an expert network company! Currently trying to find an affordable room in Manhattan. And what are your summer plans?
E: I’m going back home to Colorado, returning to work at a fly shop, and waiting to hear back from remote summer publishing internships, so I’m a little stressed (nervous laughter).
J: You mentioned your passion for fly fishing. What is your favorite fly fishing story?
E: Hmm. I’d have to say the story in Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It when Paul is swept through the Blackfoot River, holding his rod high above the water with a trout at the end of his line.
For me, there are many moments I can think of, but my best fishing stories are less about the size of the fish and more about the places I’m in and the people I’m with.
Do you have a favorite genre of submissions to read and go through?
J: I enjoy the nonfiction submissions, particularly the reviews of works I have never read before. It’s so exciting reading non-academic reviews, especially when the subject is a topic that the author is clearly passionate about.
How about you?
E: I also tend to gravitate towards nonfiction, especially essays centered on adventure and self-reflection. I am especially fond of Thomas Dai’s “Driving Days” from NER 42.2.
J: I absolutely loved Mark Harman’s erudite, hilarious piece published in NER 43.1 “Borges Translates Joyce Who Translates Himself.”
It was so nice talking with you about your experience at NER, Eleanor!
E: You too, John! I wish you all the best, this summer and beyond!