On the inaugural cover of “The Weird Reader,” a man in a hat sits with his hands on his knees. His head is tilted. His eyes stare straight ahead underneath furrowed brows. To stare back is both intriguing and uneasy, a similar feeling that arises when perusing the literature, poetry and art inside the publication.
Created by Utah State University student and Statesman staff writer Michael Burnham along with a staff of eight USU alumni and more, the online version of “The Weird Reader” was released around Halloween — a perfect showcasing of the dark, mysterious and macabre holiday season. The idea for the publication was conceived exactly a year earlier at a house party thrown by Burnham, where he asked his guests to bring and share a spooky poem or story.
“I performed some creepy poetry at his house and freaked everybody out,” said John Ropp, the head poetry director of the magazine. “A few months later, he asked me to be a part of ‘The Weird Reader.’ We’ve been officially working on it since July and are extremely happy with how it turned out.”
On the magazine’s Facebook profile, the editors posted a “thank you” to everyone who submitted pieces, claiming the response rate “blew their minds.” “The Weird Reader” did in fact receive an overwhelming amount of submissions, not just from around Utah, but around the world.
“We didn’t want a flimsy little book,” said Micaille Cole, the publication’s managing editor. “We wanted a good collection of pieces that felt complete. We printed posters for USU and Weber State campuses and hung some up in coffee shops. I also posted a few calls for submissions on freelance Facebook groups. That’s how we got submissions from all over: New Zealand, Canada, Australia, and all over the United States.”
To maintain impartiality, the location from which each submission was sent was removed during the review process. Although submission guidelines encouraged writers and artists to submit pieces that aligned with “The Weird Reader’s” mysterious and sinister theme, the editors of the magazine were quick to disregard any submissions containing especially gruesome or otherwise explicit material.
“Halloween doesn’t have to be especially gory, gruesome or inappropriate for it to be scary and fun,” said Stacie Poulsen, the managing editor. “We didn’t accept anything with any sexual content or excessively gory things, and we were really strict on language. We want the “Reader” to be something Halloween-ish that can be appropriate for anyone to read — a chill that doesn’t need to be edgy.”
In addition to being currently available online, the manuscript for “The Weird Reader” will be printed and distributed physically within the next few weeks. Each contributor will receive a free copy, and the remaining issues will be available for purchase around campus and via the magazine’s Facebook page. Another call for submissions will likely be announced late this summer in preparation for the second issue.
“I’m surprised and pleased our first issue turned out as well as it did,” Ropp said. “To anyone who wants to start their own publication, my advice would be to just do it. I think a lot of people are afraid of the legality or copyright issues or that there won’t be a market for people to read it, but the audience is not as important as the creator. You learn as you put work into these pieces, and the audience follows.”