The student-run literary magazine, Thel, has maintained a presence at Hobart and William Smith for decades, working to highlight creativity on campus by featuring and celebrating student writing and visual art.
Current editors and co-presidents Julia Cilano ’23 and Ian Albreski ’23, referred to as Thel’s “Overlords,” a joking reference to the email address to which students can submit work, joined the staff as first-years.
“My favorite thing is just how a group of people can get excited about a creative process and participate in that together. Creation and art on its own is a really beautiful thing, but if you can do that with other people and to have everyone be excited about the creative process, I love that,” says Albreski, an English major.
The staff holds meetings on Fridays at 5:30 p.m. in the Blackwell Room to review submissions of student writing, mostly of poetry and short stories, as well as visual art. The workshops begin with a reading, then move to constructive feedback and idea generation, working with the author in-person or online. At least, that is how their most productive meetings go, says Albreski. “Otherwise, when we don’t have submissions, our meetings are like ‘well, let’s all work on a creative writing exercise’ or we’ll go down some nonsense rabbit hole.”
They say encouraging creativity and “nonsense rabbit holes” among its members and the campus community is a significant part of Thel’s mission. Members of Thel have stories about the group’s creative adventures, such as hosting an “Erasure Party” to create blackout poetry out of misprinted magazines or writing satirical reviews for the latest issue claiming to be fictitious figures like the Hirshson ghost.
“One thing I love about Thel is how involved members of the journal group are in the editing process,” says Associate Professor of English Kathryn Cowles, faculty adviser for the publication. “They workshop creative writing pieces without a teacher present and so become their own teachers, always training their own eyes toward better editing and therefore better writing. Thel also gives students a wonderful, resume-building opportunity to work for a publication and go through the difficulty of putting out a journal—selection of pieces, design, layout, organization and meetings, editing, all the things the faculty do as editors of Seneca Review, the students do as editors of Thel. Some go on to work at nationally renowned journals in graduate school or beyond.
Cilano and Albreski see their work as practical experience and creative expression, but also as an archive of artistic life at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. “A literary journal is a cultural reflection of the moment of campus, what people were thinking and feeling in this moment. It is sort of an abstract kind of memory or scrapbook. It’s not celebrating the facts of what happened, but the thoughts and feelings of what happened. It’s a creative celebration,” says Cilano, also an English major.
If you search the shelves in the Blackwell Room or Demarest Reading Room or around campus in areas like the Dean’s Offices or the Gearan Center, you’re likely to find a few old copies of Thel. Distribution of the literary magazine is spontaneous and somewhat random, hand-delivered by Thellians. “Thel may not be the most wide-reaching publication, but it’s usually there if you look for it,” Cilano says.
Students interested in Thel are invited to attend Friday meetings and follow the publication on Instagram @thel_journal. Anyone interested in submitting can do so by emailing their work to firstname.lastname@example.org to be featured in the Fall 2020 issue.
Named for William Blake’s poem “The Book of Thel,” the magazine was founded in 1975. Its first editor was Robin Finn ’76, a William Smith student who went on to have a career as a journalist, working as a columnist and reporter for the New York Times.