national anthology of the best undergraduate writing 2011


plain china is a national literary anthology that aims to showcase 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 first 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, will make plain china a gathering place for the ideas, talents, and preoccupations of undergraduate writers—and isn’t that what this is all about?”

We are exhilarated by the prospect, and thank all participants for making it possible. We expect an even richer mix as more schools, we hope, participate in future issues of the plain china: Best Undergraduate Writing series.

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 two anthologies were published in three issues during spring 2010 and 2011, featuring poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and artwork from the participating 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. The website has received more than 24,000 hits to date, from all 50 states and 115 countries. View plain china 2009  and 2010.

In preparation for creating the national anthology, the class created an online magazine featuring Bennington work during spring 2009.