Write On, Sister!

by Brett Levine, Photo by Beau Gustafson

Alicia Clavell

If you speak to Alicia Clavell, you may think she’s a woman of few words. But that is only because she prefers to pour everything out on the page. “I told you it would have been better if you had simply sent me some questions,” she laughs as we sit down to speak about her writing and her role as the founder, editor and publisher of the Southern Women’s Review.

“I have been focusing on writing since I was an undergraduate,” she explains. “I have a Bachelor of Arts in English from Berry College and a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from UAB.” This emphasis on the written word led Clavell first to a ten year career writing for a range of Southern Progress Corporation publications, including Lowe’s Creative Ideas and Southern Living.   Professional writing seemed the logical focus for Clavell, who had received the Eleanor B. North Creative Writing Award at Berry in 1996 and more recently twice been awarded the Barksdale-Maynard Prize in Poetry at UAB.

“As an aspiring poet, my compositions are peppered with the idea of an unseen hand or mysterious force at work,” Clavell explains. “I was on a trip to the Dominican Republic with Dr. Linda Frost from UAB, and after being ill almost the entire time, I realized that one of the things I actually did want to purge was my focus on literature. I wanted to focus on creative writing instead, with an emphasis on poetry.”

This unexpected combination of focus, self-deprecation and humor is what makes Clavell such a quiet force in the literary world. She was first on the staff of poemmemoirstory, more commonly known as PMS, a journal published by UAB. This led, as she explained in her editor’s letter in the first issue, to a slow process that resulted in the creation of the Southern Women’s Review. “At PMS I had the wonderful opportunity to work with Linda Frost, one of my mentors. I would not be the writer I am today without her guidance, nor the direction and support of both Bob Collins and Jim Watkins.”

“One of my many talents is packaging,” she remarks, “and Southern Women’s Review allows me to package words and images into something that is a beautiful vehicle for expression by Southern women.” The definition of Southern is broad, an approach she developed after realizing that being or feeling southern was as much about an approach or an aesthetic as it was a recognition of a particular geography. “Part of the inspiration for the journal came from the Berry College Southern Women’s Writer’s Conference,” Clavell continues. “I have always been committed to the idea of creative camaraderie that the conference instills in its participants.”

Now Clavell, along with managing editor Helen Silverstein and the support of the editorial board, is transforming Southern Women’s Review into a long-term vehicle for creative expressions by southern women. “With the help of Alabama Lawyers for the Arts, we are working on attaining 501(c)(3) status,” Clavell enthuses. This is shorthand for charitable or non-profit status, and it would allow for the creation of an infrastructure that could be driven in part by external grant funding and donations.

“From the outset, Southern Women’s Review has been free,” Clavell remarks.  “The first two issues were printed in limited runs and were self–financed. After that became cost–prohibitive, we switched to online publication only, but always with the intention  of having the possibility of hard copy distribution in the future.”

For now, Southern Women’s Review will continue to focus on the best poetry, prose, creative nonfiction and photography submitted by women regionally.  “I believe SWR can be broadly focused, present a range of writing styles, and publish something for everyone,” she smiles. But you won’t find her own writing within its pages. “I am working on a book of poetry that I hope to have completed in late 2012,” Clavell muses. “It is tentatively titled ‘The Archeology of Rain’.” For now, readers will have to satisfy themselves with the extraordinary creativity found within the pages of the journal that she edits. “I have always felt compelled to publish,” she laughs. “As a child I folded notebook paper into quarters and bound little books. Now I have the opportunity to work with exceptional writers and bind minds to the exceptional talents of southern women writers today.”

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