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 often 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 fifth year, we expect an even richer mix as more schools participate in future issues of the plain china: Best Undergraduate Writing series. We are also excited to be part of the Forum for Undergraduate Student Editors (FUSE) and to see the rise of more and more national journals, most recently First Inkling and The Adroit Journal.
How we work
We only consider work by undergraduate writers published in literary journals during the previous year. 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. The reading, selection, and editing process takes place in the fall; student editors receive academic credit. A small group of students assemble, digitally publish, and promote the anthology in the spring.
Initially published in three installments each spring, plain china began in 2013 year to publish year-round, launching new work on the first of each month. The experiment has resulted in a 50 percent increase in readership; we plan to continue publishing monthly. Prize winners are featured in the April, September, and December issues.
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.
The first four volumes of the anthology have featured poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and artwork from the contributing journals. Bennington Writing Prizes of $250 were 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, and one of the 2012 essays appeared in Best American Essays 2013. Our judges have been first-rate practitioners of their respective genres (see The Prizes section). The website has received more than 50,000 visits to date, from all 50 states and almost 150 countries. View plain china 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 in our archives.