The 30-plus-year legacy and influence of SPIRITS, the student-run art and literary magazine
When Lauren Frick arrived on the Indiana University Northwest campus as a freshman, she planned to become a physical therapist. But by the time she graduated, her focus and goals for the future had changed, thanks to her involvement as a contributor and two-time editor of IU Northwest’s student-run literary magazine.
After she graduated in 2021, she was on her way to the University of Nevada, Reno, to complete a master’s degree in English.
SPIRITS Literary Magazine was originally launched by a group of IU Northwest students (including Chris Wzoleck and now-retired Student Activities Director, Scott Fulk) as a creative outlet for IU Northwest students. It has been going strong since 1990, according to Garin Cycholl, Clinical Assistant Professor of English, Director of the Writing Center and SPIRITS’ faculty advisor. Cycholl said no one today seems to know why it was called SPIRITS — that information has been lost in the fog of time — but he likes the name, nonetheless.
The journal is edited and organized exclusively by IU Northwest students, typically those studying English, creative writing, arts, liberal arts or a related discipline. It publishes the work of writers and artists from the campus, the broader community and even around the world. Cycholl notes that SPIRITS has had submissions from writers and artists from France, England, Scotland, Bangladesh and Australia.
Cycholl says it's interesting to see how the content of the magazine changed over the past six years of his tenure as faculty advisor. He often sees creative works that focus on how to survive the student years. More recently, a lot of writing has fallen into political direction, as well as ways of dealing with the isolation that began with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We get a lot of poetry,” Cycholl said. Students in fiction and poetry classes on campus are encouraged to submit any type of writing, including essays.
“Since I’ve been teaching fiction at IU Northwest, I’ve encouraged my students to submit their flash fiction (500 words or less). They tend to be really wonderful. We had one in a recent issue that was about learning to drive in a cemetery.”
Frick says she got involved with SPIRITS in a roundabout way. She began tutoring at the Writing Center and eventually became the Student Director. As a result of this work, she says the job of editor was “just handed down to me” by the small network of IU Northwest students who, at the time, were actively involved in the annual magazine. She had begun writing poetry and had some of her poems accepted into the magazine before becoming its editor.
Unlike larger universities that may have a large editorial staff, Frick says the IU Northwest literary magazine is edited by only a few people. “It's really neat, looking at the work of other people,” she said. “And it's really a team effort for us to get through all of the submissions.”
“I think because a lot of submissions are from current students, it's a chance for them to be published for the first time,” adds Cycholl. “It sparks that interest. You have your first publication and it inspires the students.”
Frick agrees that the beauty of having a literary magazine published at IU Northwest is that many students who may never have had their work published before can see their work in print. Frick says she also likes to ask, “How are we uplifting people's voices?” She believes that SPIRITS offers students that chance.
She is especially proud of the SPIRITS cover from the 2022 edition. “We decided to go with very bright colors and it worked really well.” The bright colors were courtesy of local artist Madeline Richardson and her digital art piece, Colored Bathroom.
The next issue of SPIRITS will be released in the spring of 2024 and will be edited by seniors John Anguiano, Josh Rappa, Lexi Seneczko and Faith Smith. Past issues can be found on the SPIRITS Literary Magazine website.