Feature Story

A Path to Publishing

students with blue route anniversary cover

t started with an idea: an online literary journal that captures the contemporary thoughts and creativity of college students.

Submissions would be drawn from around the country, but it would be managed, edited, and produced by Widener University students, thus offering hands-on publishing experience, leadership opportunities, and a forum to hone their own aesthetics.

It would be called “The Blue Route,” an ode to the highway leading to Widener’s campus.

“When it started, I didn’t know where it was going,” said co-faculty advisor Michael Cocchiarale, associate professor of English. “Ten years ago there were not many undergraduate literary journals. We saw the opportunity.”

Today, The Blue Route is still going strong, celebrating its 10th anniversary and 20th issue. And the biannual journal, which publishes original poetry and prose, has gone international, with submissions from as far as Nigeria.

Closer to home, The Blue Route has helped launch Widener students into careers in the publishing, editing, media, and communications fields.

“It helped prepare me for what it would be like to manage and produce an actual marketable item,” said former Blue Route editor-in-chief Jillian Benedict ’14, who has managed the production of medical textbooks for SLACK Inc., and now works in proposal management for Cigna.

The Blue Route is a professional publishing operation, and students learn all aspects of the industry. Staff evaluates submissions, corresponds with contributors, designs issues, navigates the technical side of content management and digital publishing, and maintains a blog and social media to engage with its global audience.

“These are skills used every day in the editing and publishing field, and many related jobs where communication skills are in high demand,” said co-faculty advisor James Esch. “Students are doing in a small way what they will likely be doing in the big world.” 

Danella Shallow ’11 agrees. The Blue Route, she says, helped jumpstart her marketing career.

“As editor-in-chief, I learned how to use the Adobe Suite, sharpened my coding savvy, and bettered my teamwork skills,” said Shallow, who worked as a content marketing specialist for a major catalog company. She has since transitioned to a school librarian/media specialist.  

The Blue Route is great preparation for anyone who plans to work in the marketing, publishing, or even teaching fields. The skills that you learn can become the foundation that you build on in your career. It was definitely that for me. — Danella Shallow '11

Typical issues of The Blue Route feature eight pieces of writing. The 20th publication is a special double issue of new works, plus pieces from past issues selected by former editors like Shallow.

As a professional journal, The Blue Route pays contributors a modest $25 fee, and recently began including original artwork. The themes of submissions have evolved over the years. In the early days, much of the writing dealt with personal relationships; more recently, work has tackled politics and identity.

“The journal is a modern message board, what people are thinking about in the community,” said staff member and past editor-in-chief Emma Irving ’18.

For current editor-in-chief Jennifer Rohrbach ’18, The Blue Route has been a great tool for sharpening her leadership abilities.

“I’ve learned to talk to people, delegate, lead meetings, and communicate timely and effectively,” said Rohrbach, who, following graduation, will pursue a master’s degree in publishing and writing at Emerson College.

The Blue Route staffers also gain invaluable experience and opportunities attending, presenting, and networking at undergraduate literary conferences. At a recent event, Irving struck up a conversation with an attendee that turned into an internship with the Vermont-based Green Writers Press.

“The literary world is hard to break into. This gets you connected,” said Irving, an aspiring editor. “The Blue Route showed me the whole career path.”

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