Students help shape ‘Lake Effect,’ Behrend’s literary journal

An illustration of people walking in silhouette. The image contains the words "Lake Effect," the name of Penn State Behrend's international literary journal.

Penn State Behrend's international literary journal, "Lake Effect," is published every spring. Behrend students help select the stories, poems and essays that are included.

Credit: Penn State Behrend

ERIE, Pa. — In Erie, “lake effect” generally refers to weather — the narrow bands of snow that form as cold, Canadian air absorbs moisture while crossing the Great Lakes.

At Penn State Behrend, the words signal a different season. “Lake Effect” is the title of the college’s international literary journal, an annual collection of stories, poems and essays curated, in part, by Behrend students. A new edition is published every spring.

Students and faculty members review submissions. They discuss the pacing, tone and narrative approach to individual pieces. In the process, they gain insight and experience that can be applied to their own writing pursuits.

“There are very few nationally acclaimed journals that undergraduate students can work on,” said Alanna Gillis, a 2024 graduate who served as a fiction editor for two years. “'Lake Effect' was a great way to get my feet wet in the publishing industry.”

“Lake Effect” features works of fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry by established and emerging writers. The journal is published by the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and is supported by an endowment created by the family of Helen Thomas Kennedy. George Looney, distinguished professor of creative writing and English, and Aimee Pogson, an associate teaching professor of creative writing and English, serve as the journal’s editors.

“I really enjoyed learning from the creativity of the pieces we put into the journal,” said Celine Gauge, a 2024 graduate who served as poetry editor. “I realized how valuable literary journals are for sharing work by writers outside of big publishing houses. There is a lot more room for experimentation.”

As part of a class, students and faculty members read submissions and rate how well they might fit in the journal. That often leads to discussions about the structure and voice in individual pieces and the overall effectiveness of the writing.

“I learned how to participate in and run respectful discussions about the quality of various works,” Gillis said. “Similarly, I learned how to form evidence-based opinions on the quality of written work and how to word those opinions so they would be clearly understood by others.”

The selection process opens students up to different writing styles and genres. Often, that influences the students’ own writing.

“An important part of being a writer is constantly seeking new and interesting work from other writers,” Gauge said. “Reading submissions for ‘Lake Effect’ helped expose me to work I otherwise might have never encountered.”

“It was really great for idea generation, because I got to read so many different stories about so many different things,” Gillis said. “It gave me examples of what an acceptable piece looks like.”

In February, Gillis and Gauge were part of a group that attended the Association of Writers and Writing Conference and Bookfair, a national conference with the largest bookfair in North America. This year’s program was in Kansas City.

There, while promoting “Lake Effect,” the students saw firsthand the competition in today’s literary market.

“Working on a literary journal has given me skills that are also valuable in the publishing industry, like attention to detail, time management and communication skills,” Gauge said. “My hope is that I can use this experience to break into the field.”

To learn more about the “Lake Effect” literary journal, visit the “Lake Effect” webpage.