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New Online Lit Journal Launches with Civic Engagement Focus

By Kylie Gray

Paper Dragon - MFA Cohort
Members of Drexel’s first cohort of the MFA in Creative Writing pose with author and residency instructor Chris Bohjalian.


July 27, 2020

As cities around the world shut down in response to COVID-19, and the #StayHomePHL campaign ushered Philadelphians indoors, a small group of Drexel University students launched an online literary journal. While the timing may appear far from ideal, Paper Dragon was created, by the first cohort of Drexel’s MFA in Creative Writing program, to give a venue to diverse voices rising through adversity.

When our national focus turned toward calls for civil liberties and dismantling racism, the mission of the publication became even more apparent.

Beth Ann Downey, editor-in-chief of Paper Dragon, says, “What sets Paper Dragon apart from other literary journals is that we're not planning to work only with writers; instead, we will champion the creative work from communities historically underrepresented in literature, carrying on Drexel’s overall mission for civic engagement.”

Managing Editor Bill Vargo adds, “Western culture has a fairly monolithic canon of stories. We’re hoping to find stories that give us a unique perspective on humanity, stories that introduce us to new cultures and subcultures. Literature helps us connect with and understand each other. Soliciting and publishing these stories will give us a fuller understanding of our world and of ourselves.”

The first issue, debuting this fall, will be titled “R&R – Recovery & Resilience,” a play on the usual meaning of “Rest & Relaxation.”

“…[E]ven though some of us are at home with much less on our plate in terms of the rigors of daily life, we are not relaxing,” write Downey and Vargo, along with Managing Editor Daniel Horn, in Paper Dragon’s first Letter from the Editor. “We are surviving. We are lifting up those around us. And those who need lifting are showcasing their resiliency, the fortitude of the human spirit to persevere through hardship.”

The editors hope recent stories of perseverance will inspire many submissions in the categories of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and art. They also hope the issue’s theme will resonate with experiences of Black and other people of color in our current cultural moment.

In a Letter from the Staff, Poetry Editor Angel Hogan shares several of her own experiences facing racism, as well as the importance of giving voice to trauma. “The words and expressions of Black people, in all their many splendid forms, are essential,” she writes. “It is important – it is imperative – to tell our stories. We welcome your voice.”

Drexel’s MFA in Creative Writing launched in fall of 2019 as the first low-residency MFA program in Philadelphia. Program Director Nomi Eve says the students have “gone above and beyond” to kick off this student-driven publication.

Paper Dragon’s editorial leadership team has devoted countless hours to developing this new endeavor. This means that this first cohort will really leave a mark and future MFA cohorts will inherit a well-built publication.  

“Like our MFA, Paper Dragon has a civic engagement mission. Words can move the needle, effect change, and help heal this broken world. Paper Dragon aims to be a platform for craft and consciousness. We aim to spotlight voices that should and need to be heard.”

Matching the civic engagement mission behind Paper Dragon is its utility as a tool for learning. Vargo says that building the publication has helped him look more critically at his own work.

“Even though this journal exists under the umbrella of academia, it is an invaluable real-world experience that can — and, I hope, does — have a real-world impact,” he says. “Paper Dragon is presenting many more learning opportunities and much more hands-on experience than I’d ever have in a classroom.”

Paper Dragon is currently accepting submissions in the categories of art, poetry, fiction and nonfiction.

Submit by September 1