Famed writers contribute alongside students for new online magazine

By Kimberly Drelich

With the development of Otium, an online prose magazine, members of the University community have a new forum to exhibit their creative work. Otium, whose first issue appeared online on March 9, allows writers both inside and outside of the University to publish their work without constraints on length.

Otium was born last October when a group of writers from various fields at the University formed an editorial board. “The idea was to create a place where prose writers could publish University of Chicago work without worrying about length the way other hard copy magazines on campus (Euphony, Aubade) do,” said Sarah Frank, the spring co-coordinator of Otium and a fourth-year in the College studying English Language and Literature. “The internet as a more or less infinite textual space is perfect for us.”

The magazine can be found at otium.uchicago.edu, and publishes monthly, with the second issue coming out on April 9. Officially catalogued in the Library of Congress, Otium uses an online format to bring together works from the University, the city of Chicago, and international writers. Last quarter, the editors of Otium invited Chicago writers to read their work.

According to Frank, the magazine’s perspective on prose is embodied by its title, pronounced “O-tee-um,” a Latin word which refers to the concept of critical ease inherent to the Roman world. Otium’s motto is, “We at Otium contend that good prose evokes otium, the notion connecting play with work, pleasure with critical thinking.” Otium publishes both fiction and nonfiction, including stories, memoirs, plays, and screenplays. The writing is accompanied by photographs, sketches, and graphic art. “We seek to take advantage of the collaborative capabilities of our online format by publishing both images and text in a way that encourages artistic partnership,” Frank said.

The inaugural issue contains seven fiction and two stage pieces, as well as an interview, an html project, and handiwork from two artists. This issue’s writers include Pablo Medina, a Cuban-born author recently reviewed in The New York Times Book Review, Carmen Peláez, star of the independent films “Stroll,” “Houseguest,” and “Last Hand Standing,” and Chicago writers such as Kyle Beachy, E.S. Carroll, Spencer Dew, Tiffany Funk, Merrie Greenfield, Lee Wang, and undergraduate Jeremy Guttman. “The works deal with amazingly diverse subjects, from a Cuban-American woman exploring her heritage in Cuba for the first time, to an excerpt from Veeder’s historical novel that has been decades in the making, to a piece about covert operatives on a mission with a pop-lyric spouting robot,” said Deanna Day, a third-year history concentrator in the College and co-coordinator of Otium.

According to Christopher Casebeer, a third-year in the College and Otium’s web designer and programmer, there are no plans for Otium to become a print magazine. Casebeer hopes the online format will increase readability. “Since Otium is online, we reach readers both on and off campus,” Casebeer said. “Otium’s readers can view the magazine in its intended format regardless of where they are when they read the site—and we do get readers from beyond Chicago.”

Though being online may allow people across the globe to read Otium, it may also decrease its visibility on campus, as many students have not yet heard of Otium. “I usually just take publications when I come to eat in the dining hall. I probably would not look at it unless I had a friend in it,” said Walter Grafton, a fourth-year in the College, when asked if he would read the online magazine.

Yihan Fang, a first-year in the College, had not yet heard of the magazine, but said that he would definitely read the magazine online. Whether he would visit it again “depends on whether the content is interesting.”

Some students thought that Otium was a good idea because it offers an opportunity for University students to display their creative work. “By first impressions, Otium seems to be taking both an elegant and expansive approach, especially by drawing from inside and outside the University community. Since we already have a fair showing here of poetry forums and publications, Otium will likely fill a gap for a quality prose format,” said Johanna Magin, a first-year in the College.

“That it is online, I think, makes it perhaps less intimidating for anyone who’s even casually interested in literature,” Magin said.