INTERVIEW: Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher, Founding Editor of Longridge Review

Interview by Lara Lillibridge

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Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher and I were part of the same cohort at West Virginia Wesleyan’s MFA program. After we graduated, she started a literary magazine, which is still going strong some eight years after the first issue in March 2015.

I asked to steal a few minutes of her time to discuss how and why she started Longridge Review, an online creative nonfiction journal the focuses on “the mysteries of childhood experience, the wonder of adult reflection, and how to two connect over a lifespan.”

Headshot of Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher, founder of longridge review

Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher, founder and editor-in-chief of Longridge Review

Lara Lillibridge: First of all, why did you decide to start a literary magazine?

Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher: It was 2010 when I responded to a call for anyone who wanted to launch a project online dedicated to the theme “A Better West Virginia.” I dreamed up something I called, “Essays on a West Virginia Childhood.” It wasn’t Longridge Review then, just an opportunity for people to share their narratives. I gave it a mission “to support, nurture, and promote writers of creative nonfiction to reveal both personal and universal childhood experience.”

I always considered it a work in progress, and after earning my MFA in creative nonfiction at WV Wesleyan College, I knew I wanted to formalize that work, to elevate it from blog posts and shares to curated pieces of literary art. I think at WVWC I identified my special skill set as developmental editing, and I wanted to create and manage an environment where I could do that no matter what else was on my  plate.

LL: How did you come up with the name?

EDG: My first home with my husband and child was on a literal ridge in South Hills, Charleston, West Virginia. The address was Longridge Road. I didn’t agonize over any of it, I just thought it sounded positive and just mysterious enough to create interest. It was a very happy home, too, and I loved that house and the community—all ages of people doing diverse things with their lives. I wanted to honor a formative place. I’d even played on this road as a child with friends, even though I grew up in another part of town.

screen shot of The Longridgre Review website - logo has an ink and quill and categories are listed atop: about, creative nonfiction, submit, and more, featured photo is a dandelion

Screen Capture of the Long Ridge Review Homepage

LL: I’d like to ask you about your submissions guidelines.

The website states:

Our emphasis is on literature that explores the mysteries of childhood experience, the wonder of adult reflection, and how the two connect over a lifespan.

We are committed to publishing narratives steeped in reverence for childhood experience and perceptions, but we seek essays that stretch beyond the clichés of childhood as simple, angelic, or easy. We want to feature writing that layers the events of the writer’s early years with a sense of wisdom or learning accumulated in adult life.

We welcome diverse creative nonfiction pieces that demonstrate perceptive and revealing moments about the human condition.

We will not consider trite, light narratives; genre nonfiction; critical analyses; inspirational or motivational advice; erotica or pornography; or any writing that purposefully exploits or demeans.

What drew you to this focus?

EDG: You know, my parents died in December just 18 hours apart, and nothing will get you thinking about why you do anything the way you do it quite like this experience! I loved my parents, they were good people, and like every other parent, they made some choices about how they raised me that I only realized in adult life how they impacted the way I process experiences and other people.

When I was a freshman in college I took a class, Psychology 101: Human Development, that absolutely blew my mind open. It was a microscopic lens on what babies know and when they know it, how what they learn—every single thing they learn—affects what they learn next, and the snowball of all that learning is I guess what we call personality, among other things. Until that class, basically my own entire childhood, I had no idea how this happens. I was raised very much in the people-are-hardwired-to-be-how-they-are school of thought.

It wasn’t that how you treat children didn’t matter, but it was more that you just throw stuff out there and your kid will ignore it if they aren’t interested or it’s over their heads. One example in my own life is that my parents, especially my father, loved the movies. Obsessed is not too strong a word. So I was packed up and taken out to all kinds of wild foreign films and stuff at a very young age. Really out-there, Ingmar Bergman stuff. The irony was my mother was most serious about not letting me be exposed to Grease or Jaws, because I might get ideas about sex or be scared of the beach. Meanwhile I was like, um, but playing chess on the beach with death is maybe also a reason to be scared of the beach!

Basically, I got into this focus because I started to think about how maybe in general we don’t talk about this enough. That childhood is pretty hardcore, and there is no getting out of that. So maybe let’s talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly so we can understand ourselves and other people better; so we can value ourselves and each other more. So we can find language to talk about trauma, and humor, and wisdom, and love from the day we first open our eyes.

LL: What is genre nonfiction?

 EDG: I think you’ll love this—at first I didn’t even know what it was, either! What I knew was I thought Still: The Journal, was the greatest thing I’d ever seen online. Still is “an online literary magazine publishing Appalachian literary, visual, and musical artists since 2009” and I just realized how formative they have been for me, looking at dates. I looked at their guidelines, asked if I could adopt them for Longridge Review, they said sure and it was done. I just figured if I loved what they were putting out there, I didn’t need to reinvent anything.

Oh, and genre nonfiction is things like travel writing, or history, or gardening; and we do get those sometimes but we don’t publish them because they are not literary. For example, I can get a gorgeous sensory essay about growing up in a foreign country, all about the food and the people and the traditions. But we won’t publish that because it will lack what’s sometimes called “the turn” or the “a-ha” moment when the narrator shares an internal realization about how the experience shaped him or her in a profound and unexpected and lingering way.

LL: I was a reader for a lit mag that really struggled with attracting strong submissions and eventually went under.  Has this been a problem for you?

EDG: In short, no. There is always a range, right? But I credit Anne Barnhill, the first professional writer who took a chance on the Essays on Childhood project. She really elevated the game from the beginning, and kept sending us work. She was an incredible champion for our mission, probably I think without even knowing it. She died a few years ago, and it am so glad I was able to tell her how much she meant to me and tell her I wanted to name a literary prize in her honor.

I cannot and will not do snobby elitist editing. Period. Some of our most memorable and powerful stuff comes from people without MFAs, or previous publications. I don’t need your resume. I need your best work.

I think staying true to publishing only what I really believe in is key. From what people say to me about Longridge Review, I think that’s coming through.

“I cannot and will not do snobby elitist editing. Period. Some of our most memorable and powerful stuff comes from people without MFAs, or previous publications.” — Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher

LL:  How do you select artwork?

EDG: We have not yet sought submissions for artwork. I surprise myself with how many artists I know or know of enough to reach out and ask if they want to be our featured artist. So far, this is the one thing I control solo for Longridge Review, and I don’t see that ending anytime soon.

In general, I think creative people aren’t celebrated nearly enough, so this bit for me is just a party because I can have it!

LL: Tell me about the Barnhill Prize.

EDG: Are you trying to make me cry? Oh my, Anne. I never met her in person, never spoke to her on the phone. But we were writers, and we were Appalachians, and I think we recognized something of ourselves in each other. When she was dying, we were in touch and asked if I could do this in her honor. she was so humble, I think all she heard was, “Are you okay with supporting writers about their childhoods?”

The Barnhill Prize for Creative Nonfiction honors Anne’s generous spirit of support for all who love to read and write; her lifelong empathy with those who mine their childhood experience to understand themselves now; the natural vulnerability in her compelling prose and poetry; and her boundless generosity in sharing her writing passions with the world.

Headshot of Anne Clinard Barnhill

Anne Clinard Barnhill

LL: What’s been your biggest challenge?

EDG: Not quitting.

LL: What skills are useful if someone wants to start their own literary journal?

EDG: Persistence and optimism and a deep desire to bring the art of others into the world!

LL: Tell me about your team.  Was it hard to delegate? 

EDG: Our team is the reason we ARE.  I knew something just run by me, like the original Essays on Childhood project, would not have any legitimacy in the new form I wanted this to have.

I wanted our masthead to convey credentials. I knew it would matter when it came to attracting good writers. Turning over your artistic creation is an act of faith and trust, or should be.  I very much wanted to send the message, “This team knows how to love and care for creative nonfiction.”

I first asked trusted friends with MFAs, and tried to look at geographic dispersal. At one point I realized geographic dispersal wasn’t enough, and so I’ve asked for help on the team from my MFA program to add age, race, and gender diversity.

Nothing I delegate is generic or token. It matters a great deal to me that everyone on board is real and fully engaged.

LL: What is one unexpected joy of running a literary journal?

EDG: I always hoped for but had no idea how it would feel when writers thank me for bringing their narratives into the world. “Longridge Review is a wonderful home for my work,” is the most unexpectedly beautiful thing; because these essays are people’s creations. They are their babies. And for me, because it is about childhood experience, it is extra sacred.

LL: Where do you see yourself in the future?

EDG: I am in touch with Anne Barnhill’s family about sustaining the legacy of the Barnhill Prize. And I think that’s something for all editors of literary journals to think about, what if anything is your sustainability plan?

Our 10 year anniversary is not that far away, and I dream about a hardbound volume of all our essays.

LL: Do you have a secret superpower?

EDG: I mentioned developmental editing earlier, I think I am good at seeing what a piece needs in order to grow and come into itself. I also think my abiding interest in writers as people gives us an edge. So many publications bite off more than they can chew, and often leave real people in pain with long waits and rude declines.

I know I’ve had to pass along disappointing news, but I try to always do it with respect and with feedback if that is desired.

This shouldn’t be a superpower, but apparently it is.

Gaucher’s creative nonfiction is in print and online via a wide range of outlets. She received a Judge’s Choice award from Still: The Journal for her essay, “Farm Dogs” and a Pushcart Prize nomination for her essay, “Allons, Enfants: A Young Appalachian in Paris.”

Headshot of Author Lara Lillibridge

Lara Lillibridge

Interviews Editor

Lara Lillibridge (she/they) is the author of Mama, Mama, Only Mama: An Irreverent Guide for the Newly Single Parent; Girlish: Growing Up in a Lesbian Home, and co-editor of the anthology, Feminine Rising. Her essay collection: The Truth About Unringing Phones, releases March 2024 with Unsolicited Press.

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