Quail Bell Magazine, an online magazine featuring stories of both real and unreal worlds, has tapped the work of two Shenandoah-connected writers. Six pieces by alumna Colleen Foster ’12 have appeared in the journal since its 2013 online debut. Quail Bell also showcased a poem by Elizabeth Britton ’15 during her senior year.
“We value the arts, history, folklore, and other oddities often not mentioned in mainstream magazines. As a woman-run publication, we strive to publish only the highest-quality content that not only challenges readers, but lets them have a little fun and maybe enjoy a little cuteness, too,” Quail Bell’s publisher, Quail Bell Press & Productions, writes on the website for the magazine, which is primarily an online writing outlet, but does produce some printed magazine work, as well, which it sells at various literary and arts events.
Foster and Britton absolutely work within Quail Bell’s realm of the real and unreal. Foster’s pieces include two poems: “Bodies of Work” and “Show and Tell”; two movie reviews; a theatre review and a humorous piece called “10 Signs You’re a Politi-Kid.”
Foster said her subject matter “runs the gamut from a surreal but very personal reflection on psychological and physical disease, to a list of jokes cracked about a politi-kid, or a child who grew up in a politically active family.
“Each of these genres and each of these topics is a piece of the huge puzzle that I am, like every human being — messy with infinite facets, bruises, strengths, memories, smells….As a writer, I don’t want to limit myself to one genre or subject matter,” said Foster before making a humorous aside. “But, okay, I have yet to, say, scribe the user’s manual for a microwave.”
The poem Britton submitted and had published is a product of the unreal world. Called “Nightmare,” the fictional piece deals with “a woman’s conflicting emotions of lesbianism,” Britton said. “The character, Nightmare, is madly in love with Dream, a woman she feels she can never be worthy enough to be with.”
While both women were selected for Quail Bell, that’s not where their similarities end. Britton was an English major who also ventured into the study of Spanish literature, while Foster was an English/Spanish major. Each woman worked on Shenandoah’s student newspaper, The ‘Doah (Foster as a staff writer and assistant managing editor and Britton as a staff writer). Both also started their writing lives at very young ages.
Foster recalls finding comfort in writing as she dealt with speech impediments in her elementary school years — it was easier to write her thoughts than verbalize them. However, she didn’t come to Shenandoah with writing in mind. She was initially in the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Music Theatre program at Shenandoah Conservatory. But, writing was still there when she reevaluated her higher education plan, and she returned to it by studying English and Spanish. “It felt right, although it definitely blew up every semblance of a game plan,” she said.
Today, Foster carries an all-purpose notebook with her everywhere as she travels through her home grounds of Northern Virginia. The notebook contains ideas, collages, stickers, quotes, receipts — anything that could be idea fodder. She tutors high school students in English and Spanish and oversees the monthly “What’s Brewing” newsletter for a business called House of Steep, which offers tea, coffee, massage and reflexology.
Britton, who hails from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, also started writing in elementary school. “I was a fifth-grade ‘safety,’ which meant my duties included watching over younger students at the bus stop and escorting kindergarteners to the buses. I used to write short stories and bring them to read to the kindergarteners while we waited for the bus to arrive. They loved it and always begged for more stories. I guess that’s where my passion for writing really began.”
She continues to write because it’s fun. “I write every day for an hour (at least) in the morning. I love both poetry and prose,” she said. While Foster knew about Quail Bell from its earliest days by keeping up with Stoddard, Britton submitted her work to the magazine through a Shenandoah class — Online Genres with Associate Professor of English Michelle Brown, Ph.D.
“We published Elizabeth’s poem, ‘Nightmare,’ because its imagery lends itself well to a visual pairing (That’s why we ran it with Jasmine Thompson’s provocative photograph.),” said Christine Stoddard, Quail Bell editor. “I was also enchanted by the personification of the dream, as ‘Dream — that sweet girl.’”
Stoddard notes that the appeal of Foster’s work is multifaceted. “Her poetry is fresh; her word play is delightful; and her theatrical background makes her reviews especially insightful,” she said.
Stoddard is also a former high school classmate of Foster’s. The pair attended Yorktown High School in Arlington, Virginia.
Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies Andrea Meador Smith, Ph.D., taught both Foster and Britton and notes how the young women are similar, outside of their love of writing. “Both Colleen and Liz are deep thinkers with a flair for the creative and dramatic. They both pursued studies in the conservatory as well as arts and sciences, so they are true examples of the well-rounded education that Shenandoah can offer. As a professor, it was an absolute delight to work with such curious and engaged students; their passion and creativity shone through in their contributions to class discussion and the quality of their writing.”
Foster and Britton both plan to continue writing. Foster’s work has already been featured in Luna Luna Magazine through a publishing partnership with Quail Bell, the mental health ‘zine On the Grid and the Language in Bloom blog. “We’ll see where else my writing travels. The trick is not to get overwhelmed by all the possible outlets and be immobilized, but pursue them, one by one,” Foster said. “And graduate school is definitely in the picture somewhere in the next five years, probably a writing- or language-based master’s program somewhere within the Commonwealth.”
As for Britton, she plans to keep publishing poetry and hopes to start working on short stories and essays. “In the future, I want to be a young adult novelist. I keep writing every day to keep my dreams alive.” And, she plans to make more Quail Bell submissions, too.
Contributed by Stephanie Mangino