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Full steam ahead

Posted 7 a.m. Sunday, June 5, 2022

Students find working on “Steam Ticket” valuable for a variety of reasons. Editors for the spring 2022 issue included, from left, Madison Vaillant, Alexia Walz and Noah Gassman.

UWL literary journal still going strong after a quarter century

Even a pandemic couldn’t end the printing of a UW-La Crosse student literary journal. “Steam Ticket” is full steam ahead as it reaches 25 years — with students adamant on seeing the printed periodical continue. 

“Every year, I ask students if they'd rather go online exclusively, and every year they say, ‘no,’" says English Professor Matt Cashion. “They like the physical artifact of the book, and I imagine they like to take it away as a souvenir of the work they've put in.”  

Cashion, who has served as the journal’s faculty advisor since 2006, says some featured selections are made available online each year, but students prefer the printed editions. 

The fact that the journal remains popular after 25 years is noteworthy, Cashion says. Many printed journals have become extinct or endangered due to the internet and growing printing costs. 

“Our longevity is, in part, a testament to the writers who keep writing stories and poems that deserve to be shared with readers who continue to be sustained by courageous witnesses and wild imaginations,” he explains. 

Students in the English Department’s annual spring “English 320—Literary Journal Production” course continue to make the publication happen. The annual journal attracts submissions from national and international writers and artists, as well as students. The current issue includes writers from six countries and 22 states, including U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo and a Ukrainian poet. 

Cashion says the department’s growing creative writing minor is key to Steam Ticket’s success. The minor, he notes, creates personal, professional and civic ways for students to apply their writing skills. 

Cashion says by working on the publication, students learn the stories they write and read can play an important part in building community. 

“They are stories that deepen our appreciation for a wide range of perspectives writing about what matters most in the environments we share, which we hope creates empathy and respect,” he explains.  

Students find working on the journal valuable for a variety of reasons. 

Alexia Walz, a senior from La Crosse majoring in media studies, says serving as the periodical’s editor gave her hands-on experience of the publication process and improved her writing skills. 

“I learned quite a bit about the publishing industry, including how it works and the kind of stories and poems that get published,” Walz explains. “I also learned about teamwork and the importance of communicating with the people around you. All of this indirectly helped me become a better writer.”

English Professor Matt Cashion has served as “Steam Ticket’s” faculty advisor since 2006. Cashion says the journal remains popular after 25 years. “Our longevity is, in part, a testament to the writers who keep writing stories and poems that deserve to be shared with readers who continue to be sustained by courageous witnesses and wild imaginations,” he explains.

Madison Vaillant, a junior from Lakeville, Minnesota, served as the prose editor for the spring 2022 issue. She says she acquired many applicable life skills in her role leading discussion with students in selecting content. 

“I gained a lot of insight into how to direct a group, but also how to trust them to thoroughly critique pieces and make decisions on their own,” she explains. “I got better about managing group discussion by asking thought-provoking questions and making sure everyone's voices were heard.” 

Vaillant sees those skills as key when she reaches her goal of working in publishing.          

“I got more of a realistic job experience that could be similar to a real job in the industry,” she explains. “I've gotten hands-on leadership experience with that process as well, and no matter what position I choose to apply for in the future, I think helping out with Steam Ticket has given me really valuable skills that I can use.” 

Noah Gassman, a junior from St. Peter, Minnesota, says before taking the class, he was considering internship responsibilities at publishing companies. All those internships focused on collaboration, time management, editing and reading through submissions. 

“I did all of this with this course,” notes Gassman, who was poetry editor. “So far, I’ve only taken lecture or discussion-based courses, but to take a practical course where we organize and create a tangible product, where we put our studies into practice, was an extremely valuable experience for me.” 

Many creative writing minor graduates eventually work in publishing, public relations, or journalism, says Cashion. The minor also complements a wide range of majors, from communications and marketing to theatre and psychology. 

Cashion says no matter their major, students in creative writing classes leave with an important lesson. 

“Once students realize that they are naturally creative — that they already practice creativity every time they make a social media post, for example — their confidence increases and they find themselves producing a lot of great work they hadn't imagined they could, all while having fun,” he says. 


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