According to its design and Web editor, Joseph Reed, literary journal Caketrain has a simple mission. "It's people trying to do something different with literature," he says. "We include work that's more speculative and experimental, not just narrative."
This love of the out-of-the-ordinary has served the Pittsburgh-based annual journal of poetry and prose since 2003. Caketrain is published as a sleek, glossy book many journals would envy; meanwhile, its Web site (www.caketrain.org) is key to attracting writers and readers from all over the globe. The fourth issue, which came out recently, features writers from India and Russia, and the cover art (a comic book-style work entitled "Fuck Death") is by Han Hoogerbrugge, an artist from the Netherlands. "We try to strike a balance between being known as a local commodity and a national or even international publication," says Reed.
Reed, along with managing editor Amanda Raczkowski and editor-in-chief Donna Karen Weaver, graduated from University of Pittsburgh-Greensburg in 2003. "After college we were bored, and decided to start a journal," says Raczkowski, who notes that the first issue featured mostly writers the founders knew personally.
In addition to the yearly magazine, Caketrain holds an annual competition whose prize is publication of a collection or manuscript. In 2005, poet Elizabeth Skurnick's Check-In was published. This year's winner is Tom Whalen, a poet based in Germany whose collection Dolls will be released in May. Though the staff hopes to hold a Caketrain reading this summer -- with either Whalen or some of the writers from issue four -- Raczkowski admits it isn't easy to set up. "It's neat to publish writers from across the country, but it makes it hard to do local readings," she says.
Even so, the Caketrain team couldn't be happier in Pittsburgh, especially with the support of the area's many local journals. "It's one of the nice things about living in a town with so many universities, you could go to a reading every night if you wanted to," Raczkowski says. Caketrain itself, meanwhile, is for sale at Caliban Book Shop and Pitt's Book Center, both in Oakland.
The staff encourages local writers to submit material: Caketrain accept submissions continuously, even if the following year's issue has filled up. Local work in Caketrain No. 4 includes poetry by Margaret Bashaar and Claire Donato.
Raczkowski and Reed agree that finding that special piece in a pile of submissions is one of the most exciting aspects of publishing a literary magazine. "We've always enjoyed putting new, unestablished writers beside bigger names," says Reed. Adds Raczkowski, "We're just looking for innovative work, or something that's new."
The Independent Press Forum features a discussion with representatives from Caketrain and local publications including The New Yinzer, Encyclopedia Destructica and Paper Street Press 7 p.m. Wed., March 28. Mount Lebanon Public Library, 418 Washington Road, Mount Lebanon. Free. 412-531-1912