Last week, I attended the opening of a new temporary exhibit at Drexel University’s W.W. Hagerty Library. “Inventing the Page: Student Literary Magazines at Drexel” displays works of creative writing written by Drexel students and published in the University’s various student-run literary magazines over roughly the past century. The exhibit was a collaborative project created by student editors of the current literary magazine (Maya), the student newspaper (Triangle), faculty members, and the Drexel University Archives.
The exhibit is small and simple, consisting of four cases arranged in the library’s main lobby. The cases contain literary magazines held by the Drexel University Archives, spanning as far back as 1907 up until 2009. Some of the magazines are opened to a poem or short story created by a student, accompanied by a label written by a faculty member or a student editor analyzing the piece an offering an explanation for its inclusion. Others are closed to display the magazine’s cover.
The poems and stories provide a glimpse into how some Drexel students made sense of the world around them, offering creative expression on a variety of subjects, from the metaphysical (life and death) to the interpersonal (family life and relationships) to the practical (living away from home, life in the city). By presenting these works, the exhibit suggests to the current Drexel students who frequent the library space a kind of shared connection to other students in their place as far back as a century ago. In this respect, the exhibit fosters a sense of shared experience. According to the main label, “The concerns of students have not changed dramatically in 100 years—love and fear, studying and sports, exploring the concrete city and yearning for home.”
Perhaps one of the elements I found most interesting was the case displaying a collection of literary magazines from the early twentieth century (1907-1931). Aside from a pair of short stories, this case displayed some eye-catching artwork from the earliest Drexel literary magazines: Echo and the humorously titled (to me) Drexerd. The selections were printed on colorful paper and presented cover artwork designed by the students. I kept finding myself coming back to them, and they served as a welcome splash of visual stimuli as I read through the various poems and short stories. I also felt they demonstrated another kind of creative expression these literary magazines offered even if they were not the primary subject of the exhibit.
A point raised to me by Anita Lai, Archives Technician who arranged the exhibit, also gave me pause for thought. According to Lai, many of the materials submitted the magazines were written by students in technical majors, such as engineering and mathematics. On one level that makes sense, given Drexel’s reputation as technically-oriented university. However, it also provides an interesting glimpse on how some students used creative writing as a means of personal expression; perhaps for some of them, writing a short story or composing a series of haikus provided a welcome escape from the rigors of the drawing room or lab. One is left to wonder how many continued to write after graduation. There was an entry from Chimamanda Adichie, an accomplished author of two novels; however I wonder how many others kept it up.
The opening was well-received, attended by members of the library and archival staff as well as Drexel undergraduate and graduate students. For those interested in library sciences it provided a useful forum to discuss work in the field between current and aspiring professionals. Passers-by also stopped in to examine the cases, and I heard more than one person offer positive comments on the artifacts.
After light refreshments University Archivist Rob Sieczkiewicz directed us to a conference room on the third floor where the Archives hosted a heading of the poems on display. The readers included students, faculty, and members of the library staff. I feel reading the poems aloud gave a human touch to the pieces that simply reading them silently did not allow. It would have been nice to hear from some of the original authors, however, as Anita Lai, Drexel’s Archives Technician who arranged the exhibit, explained to me, the Archives attempted to make contact with them; however, they were either unavailable to attend or did not respond at all. The exhibit opening was overall a nice event.
“Inventing the Page” runs through June 11. Lai also explained to me there has been interest in creating a web-based version of the exhibit, which may include full versions of some of the abridged entries, namely the short stories; however, nothing has been set in stone as of yet (I’ll be sure to include a link to it if and when it comes to fruition). While the target audience is the Drexel student body, it is also available to the public. However, if you are not a student, be aware that non-Drexel students need to show some form of photo ID to be let into the library. If you are in the neighborhood and are interested in student poetry be sure to give it a visit.