Introducing Thistle:

By Amy Shaunette

Like most things, it began with an idea. Last fall, Andrew Mirzayi ’10 went for an evening walk with friends when the proverbial mental light bulb switched on. “Let’s start a literary magazine,” he said. Thus Thistle, Macalester’s newest lit mag, was born.Mirzayi and his friends, who were in the first-year course Intro to Creative Writing: Environmental Writing, flirted with the idea for a few weeks before holding the first official Thistle meeting.

“There are great lit mags at Macalester, but we felt there was a niche that wasn’t being filled,” Mirzayi said. “There wasn’t really an informal space for writers to not only publish their work but also get feedback. We wanted to create an artistic community without being too pretentious about it.”

Thistle functions not just as a publication but also as a writing workshop. Members meet once a week to discuss submissions, offering constructive criticism for writers in the hopes that each piece will be reworked to perfection. At the end of a submission period, the Thistlers vote on submissions, lay out the magazine using InDesign or Microsoft Word and send it to Document Services for publication, hoping to emerge as better writers after weeks of intense discussion and revision.

“When I write something, it’s important to me to get as many different perspectives on it as I can,” said Anna Joranger ’10, who has been published in both Chanter and Thistle.

Currently enrolled in a poetry class, Joranger workshops her writing in class and at Thistle meetings. “I find that the atmosphere at Thistle is more supportive. Classes can be really critique-based but at Thistle people give helpful criticism to improve your writing, and they tell you why a piece is good,” she said.

For many writers, Thistle provides a source of motivation. It’s an extension of creative writing classes for English majors like Joranger, and a chance to be involved with writing for people who aren’t taking English classes. “Those of us who want to be English majors, but can’t, still get to talk about poetry,” Daniel Picus ’10 said.

Ryan Dzelzkalns ’10 said Thistle inspires him to put a greater effort into his writing. “When I’m writing without a purpose, I’ll doodle and write stuff down and think, ‘eh,’ but if I have a goal to work for, if people are going to look at my writing, I want to make it as good as I can,” he said.

Last year, Thistle was chartered as an official student organization funded by Macalester College Student Government, aiming to publish three issues a semester. Although Mirzayi, Joranger, Picus and Dzelzkalns tend to lead the group, Thistle has no official editors. Producing the magazine is a collective effort. Dzelzkalns said if something needs to be done, someone will step up and do it. Some people submit writing and leave the publishing up to the rest of the group, while others prefer not to submit but still participate in the workshop. If someone wants to help with layout, he or she can.

“It’s a casual process, and it’s a learning process, since this is our first semester being official,” Joranger said. “We’re all very committed.”

Mirzayi was surprised by the challenges that starting a student org presented. “Last year, we were a bunch of first years. We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into and there were definitely nights when I’d send out an email begging people to come to the meeting,” he said.

But with the MCSG charter and a grant from the English Department, Thistle is on its way to creating a lasting legacy at Macalester. Members are mostly freshmen and sophomores, and the hope is that eventually Thistle will reach a larger audience and attract more upperclassmen. For now, Dzelzkalns says, the goal is for people on campus to know what Thistle is when they hear it mentioned.

Open to writers of all levels, the magazine doesn’t have specific guidelines for submissions. Thistle publishes both poetry and prose. Mirzayi, Joranger, Picus and Dzelzkalns agree that above all, they’re looking for creative, original writing that’s unlike anything they’ve read before.

“Really we’re looking for, or I’m looking for-I think everyone has their different standards-people who are trying something unique, who are not necessarily perfecting what they are doing but are experimenting and trying something new; just catching my eye,” Mirzayi said. “I really like eye-catching stuff. That’s what will get me.”

Mirzayi says that part of growing as an author is developing a thick skin. “You have to learn not to take criticism personally. Instead, take it as feedback. Don’t think people are attacking you,” he advises.

“We have people of all skill levels; people who are hobbyist writers and others who are really passionate about it,” Mirzayi said. “We find room for all their work in the magazine as long as they’re willing to improve their writing and show that they’re growing as an author.”

For Mirzayi, it’s the thrill of the hunt that keeps him interested. “You’d think I’d say the most rewarding part is when I have the magazine in my hands, but that’s not actually it. It’s when I read something really good and I get excited about it,” he said. “I’m in this club not just because I like to write but because I love to read other people’s writing as well.”

Picus said that as cheesy as it may be, he loves to witness the creation of art, a concept that encompasses the spirit of Thistle. In the end, it’s not the art that matters; it’s the process of creating.

At Her House

A door that is closed
provides no security
or even
(thank god)
an evident purity.

-Neil Hilborn

Reprinted with permission of Thistle
Pick up a copy of Thistle for more!