The Magazine at the Corner of Second and Church

Talking shop with Roy Burkhead, founder of Tennessee’s newest literary quarterly

by Tina LoTufo

In May 2011, Roy Burkhead was hit by a car at the intersection of Church Street and 2nd Avenue in downtown Nashville. (He was not seriously injured.) In many people, such an experience might spark musings on mortality, but for Burkhead it sparked thoughts of the literary journal he’d been planning for some time. “This event forced me to pause and look around,” he says. “I was interested to realize just how many different aspects of Nashville were represented from this particular spot of town: honky tonks, small businesses, tourist shops, a government office or two, and law offices. Maybe it was the impact of the bumper, but I started to ponder that this specific spot could work as a great metaphor, a virtual location in this actual city.” Burkhead published the first issue of 2nd & Church only one year later.

Burkhead is also the founder of The Writer’s Loft, a creative-writing program at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. As editor and publisher of 2nd & Church, Burkhead has assembled a crew of like-minded, creative people to provide articles, interviews, poetry, flash fiction, book reviews, photographs, and even columns on technical writing and song writing. Highlights of the first edition include interviews with Nashville crime novelist J.T. Ellison and local writer and radio personality River Jordan, poetry by MTSU professor Alvin Knox, and articles on the Clarksville Writers’ Conference and Nashville’s Shakespeare in the Park program. The journal includes beautiful full-color photography, and its uncluttered page design enhances readability. Content is firmly focused on Tennessee, but production is a different story. “This is definitely guerrilla warfare publishing,” he explains. “The web and editorial work are done in Nashville, the layout and design happen near the Gulf of Mexico, the fact checker is out of Wisconsin, our columnists are mostly in Tennessee, except for one on the West Coast, and the journals are printed in Oregon.”

Although initially conceived as strictly a traditional—i.e., printed—journal, Burkhead soon realized that a digital option was crucial if he wanted to attract younger readers accustomed to instant gratification, and 2nd & Church is now available as a free download via its website. Print-on-Demand (POD) technology allows readers to order a physical copy of the issue for $10, as well, but printing and shipping take a few days. “It’s a win-win, in terms of my old-world printing sensitivities and the twenty-first- century’s online expectations,” Burkhead says. Free copies of 2nd & Church are also available at selected libraries, art centers, bookstores, and cafes in Nashville, Knoxville, Cookeville, Dickson, Woodbury, and Chattanooga. (See the website for a list of locations.)

The journal’s recently released second edition focuses on poetry and highlights Tennessee Poet Laureate and Bell Buckle resident Margaret “Maggi” Britton Vaughn: articles and interviews describe her unique creative journey and outspoken, down-to-earth views on the writing and marketing of poetry. She advises poets to strive for accessibility. “If you want to sell poetry, don’t try to impress anybody,” she suggests. “People who buy books don’t want to be impressed… . When I read, people understand it perfectly and relate to it.” The second issue also contains articles on local writing retreats and conferences, a profile of Nashville’s Mysteries & More bookstore, book reviews, and “A Gallery of Poems,” including a couple from Vaughn herself.

The third edition—scheduled for publication in late January or early February—will feature an interview with physician, former astronaut, and Murfreesboro native Rhea Seddon, as well as an excerpt from her new memoir. Terry Price—current director of The Writer’s Loft—contributes a novel excerpt, local mystery author Jaden Terrell answers questions, and Chattanooga and Knoxville writers weigh in, too. Future issues will examine the work of Ernest Hemingway and the craft of journalism and introduce new columnists from as far afield as Wisconsin, California, and Oregon, exposing Tennessee readers and writers to a broader literary community.

J.T. Ellison is impressed by Burkhead’s dedication and determination: “It’s hard to start a magazine from scratch,” she says, “but he’s been unfazed by the challenges—rounding up fabulous articles, releasing regularly, networking, and getting the magazine in stores from Nashville to Paris. He’s been rather amazing. It’s wonderful to have a Tennessee-based literary magazine.”

Burkhead admits to being pleasantly surprised at the response to 2nd & Church: “I had no idea how well it would be received,” he says. “The support from local writers, poets, bookstores, libraries, agents, publicists—everyone, actually—has been humbling and overwhelming.” Initial editions have proven so popular, in fact, that Burkhead has had trouble keeping distribution sites stocked. This comes as no surprise to fans, however. “2nd & Church is a first-rate affair,” says River Jordan. “That’s the kind of wonderful creativity I love to see spotlighted from Nashville. We are much more than only our country-music scene here.”

Burkhead is clearly delighted with the final product of so much planning and hard work. “Our greatest success is creating a product, a literary experience, that we are all proud to show anyone at any time,” he explains. “All of us at the journal decided to put quality over quantity and speed. Nothing in the process is more important than our writers or poets and the integrity of their words.” But he is most excited about the adventures yet to come: “My vision for 2nd & Church is simple: I want the reader to be able to sit on the back porch, have a glass of sweet tea, open the journal, and know that whatever is on the inside will be a satisfying experience.”

Published Monday, 10 December 2012