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New Lit on the Block :: The Thalweg

The Thalweg issue 3 cover image

The Thalweg. The name comes from the geological term for “the deepest part of a canyon, the primary navigable channel of a waterway, a boundary between two formations where the current is the strongest.” The editors of this annual publication of prose, short essays, poetry, stories, and visual art felt that this term “was a beautiful metaphor for the work we hope to publish, hoping that The Thalweg can be a space to share strange and beautiful things, as a way of contemplating our normative ideas of nature.”

The Thalweg’s masthead speaks to experiences in both literature and nature. Founding Editor and Communications Director Seneca Kristjonsdottir works as a guide on the Salmon and Snake rivers in Idaho and in Arizona’s Grand Canyon. She has lived in a variety of landscapes including Colorado, Idaho, and California, and studied ecology and bee husbandry at Goddard College.

Editor, Social Media Manager, and Visionary Sabs Stein is a Pacific Northwest artist working as a breakfast chef in the Pacific Northwest on occupied Lummi and Nooksack land. Writing led them through a B.A. in Parks, Recreation & Tourism and several years of seasonal outdoor education work and river guiding.

Managing Editor and Creative Director Dory Athey is a communications consultant and river guide having grown up on the whitewater of the American West from a family of river guides. She received her M.A. in Publishing from Portland State University and spent several years in the marketing department of Catapult Book Group. In 2020, she co-founded The Thalweg with Kristjonsdottir.

As Kristjonsdottir tells it, “Dory had just left a career job in book publishing, and I wanted to make a collaborative zine to share the creative work of people who work and live in wild landscapes. The idea was originally inspired by the Boatman’s Quarterly Review, a publication that shares the work of river guides working in the Grand Canyon. We also look up to other publications and creative groups like Fisherpoets, Smoke + Mold, Inverness Almanac, Badlands Zine, and so many others.

“But the foundation of our project is really our friends—river guides, hiking guides, farmers, park rangers, outdoorspeople, folks living in small communities who write poetry and stories, or create visual work that stirs our hearts. These folks are guides, farmers, or fishermen, but they are also creatives, telling beautiful stories about landscapes and experiences that are so dear to us. Being away from urban centers and major cultural institutions is part of what makes these contributions so special—it is a privilege to be a creative home for each contributor who chooses to share their work with us. Since Issue One, our community has expanded far beyond folks we know personally. It has been incredible to work with all kinds of creatives from all over the world.”

The result has become an annual publication, first available in print on a sliding scale donation. “Once we sell through our limited print run of each issue,” Kristjonsdottir explains, “the work is published online and available to read and browse on our website.”

For readers, The Thalweg features 12-15 writers and artists in each issue, most of which share a small collection of their work, and specifically featuring poets, storytellers, photographers, painters, illustrators, and other artists who live, work, or reflect on wild landscapes. Some recent contributors include Wyatt Hersey, Fumie Hiromitsu, Elise Otto, Bri Dostie, m.t. samuel, Leah Marvin-Riley, Sam Rush, Drew Austin, Steve Kenney, Bronco, Hannah Stevens, Colin Andrews, Abbey Gordon, and Melanie Margarita Kirby.

For writers looking to submit, Kristjonsdottir explains, “Our submissions are handled through Submittable. We have an open submissions period of a few months in-between issues. After this, the three of us review and select a first round of submissions. Those submissions then go on to a second round of external contributing editors. The contributing editor team changes for each issue and are usually past contributors or community members selected to represent a wide range of interests. After this external round of review, we narrow it down to our final list of 12-15 folks for each issue.”

Looking back on their first few years, Kristjonsdottir shares, “We have been overwhelmed by the way our little project has been received. We regularly receive more than enough submissions, more beautiful work than we have the resources to publish, and we always sell through our limited print runs. Our largest challenges are always our financial and energetic capacity to grow or maintain the project. The three of us work hard to publish one issue each year, and it always feels like there is more we could and want to be doing. In the end, as a passion project that all of us volunteer our time for, we can only move as fast as the constraints of the rest of our lives let us. We move slow, but are patient, putting one foot in front of the other and always focusing on producing something we are proud of before rushing to make something that feels half done.”

That kind of care and commitment has helped the publication and its crew stand the test of time already. Looking to the future, Kristjonsdottir says, “We have lots of dreams at The Thalweg. In our next issue, we are hoping to include a sticker sheet! We are working with some of our contributors to make shirts, or other soft goods as ways to make some extra money for them and get their work into the world. We are going to be releasing a series of chapbooks, featuring past contributors who want to share a larger body of their work. In the far future we dream of running an artist residency, or maybe being financially stable enough to pay our contributors ahead of time.”

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