The Allegheny Review is a national undergraduate literary magazine published since 1983 at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania. But, if you didn’t know these poems, stories, photos, and drawings were the product of undergraduate students, you might reasonably assume they were created by more experienced artists. And there is something refreshing about focusing solely on the work itself, forgetting about the name at the top of the page. It’s unlikely you’ll have seen this writer or artist’s name before, and it can be a pleasure to read without expectations. I was surprised by and especially liked a sophisticated poem by Robert Campbell, “An Appalachian Book of the Dead,” one of the issue’s award winners; a story by Heather Papp, “Consequences of Reproductive Success”; and a photo by Sean Stewart. I might have mistaken any of these for work by more mature artists, clear-eyed, original, and memorable.
The editors have done an admirable job of selecting an eclectic mix of work in terms of style, tone, and subject matter, though there is a clear preference for narrative poetry and prose that is decidedly conventional. This year’s prose award winner is Mackenzie Shay with a short personal essay, “Our Circle,” a brief description of a support group for people living with manic depression. Shay does a competent job of weaving together an inner meditation, dialogue, and description. Best of all, she knows when to delve deeper, and when not to embellish. “The first rule is that we are all equal. And we are,” she writes. Not everyone, of course, is equally talented. But, these young writers and artists are at least as worthy of our attention as many more seasoned talents.