plain china is a national literary anthology that showcases the best undergraduate writing from across the country, while providing a venue for top-notch artwork as well. The work of undergraduates has historically been featured only in their respective institutions; with this anthology, we want to honor and connect young writers and artists, and to create a collective narrative reflective of and relevant to the undergraduate writing experience. It is the only online compilation of undergraduate work at such a scale and on a national level.
As one student editor put it: “The combination of strong, genuine voices and thoughtful, well-crafted prose, along with the variety in subject matter and form among the work, makes plain china a gathering place for the ideas, talents, and preoccupations of undergraduate writers—and isn’t that what this is all about?”
We think it is, and thank all participants for making it possible. Now publishing for our sixth year, we have witnessed an ever richer mix as more schools have participated in the plain china: Best Undergraduate Writing series. We are pleased to be part of the Forum for Undergraduate Student Editors (FUSE) and to see the rise of more and more national journals.
How we work
We only consider work by undergraduate writers published in literary journals during the previous year. We solicit journals each spring, averaging over the past six years about 75 annually. In the fall, student editors, working in genre groups, not only propose, argue for and collectively choose pieces, they also discuss editing with fellow genre members and correspond with contributing writers to make the work the best it can be. For the reading, selection, and editing process, student editors receive academic credit. A small group of students assemble, digitally publish, and promote the anthology in the spring.
The anthology publishes monthly installments throughout the year, launching new work on the first of each month, from April to March. Writing Prize winners (see below) are featured in the April, September, and December issues.
The first five volumes of the anthology have featured poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and artwork from the contributing journals. Bennington Writing Prizes of $250 have been awarded in each of the three writing genres. The story originally selected for the Fiction Prize in 2010 was accepted for publication in The Atlantic, one of the 2012 essays appeared in Best American Essays 2013, a 2013 story received Notable status in the Best American Non-Required Reading series, and an essay that will appear later this year was included in Best of the Net 2014. Our judges have been first-rate practitioners of their respective genres (see The Prizes section). The website has received more than 63,000 visits to date, from all 50 states and 150 countries. View plain china 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 in our archives.
Genesis of the idea
Since its founding in 1932, Bennington College has historically provided fertile ground for writers. Our faculty members have always been practicing writers as well as teachers, our MFA program is rated among the top nationally, and our alumni have made a significant mark on the world of American letters. So when we came up with a big idea, we felt poised and eager to take the leap.
In spring 2009, a group of Bennington students and a faculty member solicited undergraduate publications from schools nationwide. From some 200 invitations to participate, we received more than 50 publications. We spent the summer and fall reading, discussing, selecting, corresponding, and, in most cases, editing with the writers of the work, and published the following spring.
The 2014 anthology year will be plain china‘s final year in its current incarnation, launching its first issue on April 1, 2015, and continuing through March 1, 2016. Working on it has been a joy and an honor. We salute the journals, the plain china editors, and the contributors through the years.
—Rebecca Godwin, Founder and Faculty Editor