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Swarthmore's Literary Magazine—Recrafted

By Danielle Charette ’14


The literary magazine once edited by Jonathan Franzen has reframed its name and look.

Small Craft Warnings, Swarthmore College’s oldest literary magazine, just got a face-lift. The biannual publication, perhaps best known for former editor Jonathan Franzen ’81, was reissued earlier this spring with a whole new look and feel.

One of Franzen’s first editorial decisions during his own student days was to change the magazine’s name from the Null Set Review to Small Craft Warnings—a reference to one of Tennessee Williams’ more obscure plays. Now, with the help of a dedicated student editorial board, the Department of English Literature, and several committed alums, the magazine is remaking itself again, this time shortening the name to Small Craft.

Though an edition of Small Craft has consistently come out each semester, the production team had grown a bit complacent. The website was outdated, and the editors were outsourcing their design to a wholesale printing service. “Swarthmore deserves a really good literary magazine,” says John “Trip” Lenahan ’15, a member of the Small Craft board who has spearheaded many of the magazine’s recent upgrades.

Last summer, Lenahan reached out to Linda Huang ’08 and Andrew LeClair ’08, graphic designers in New York City. The three met in Brooklyn in August, and Lenahan reports that “Linda and Andrew couldn’t have been any nicer.” Huang, a former studio art major who now designs book covers for Knopf and Pantheon Books, says she is “pretty proud” to be revitalizing the aesthetics of Small Craft. She notes that “Trip gave us a lot of freedom.”

Lenahan was pretty much the “ideal client,” adds LeClair, a former psychobiology special major who never took an art class at Swarthmore. LeClair just received an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in June and says that his experience assisting Small Craft is reminiscent of alums collaborating on projects at RISD and provides inspiration for the kind of artistic network he will continue to foster at Swarthmore. The Small Craft students gave us “leeway to help define the vision,” he says.

Small_Craft_process.jpgLeClair and Huang have done a lot with that artistic freedom. Lenahan laughs, saying that the two sent him a photo of an entire apartment floor covered in Small Craft typeface. One of Huang and LeClair’s insights was to conclude the issue with an isosceles triangle—the official symbol for a small-craft coastal advisory. In this case, it’s an advisory for the “craft” that comes with creative expression.

With the designers’ help, the editorial board is planning to launch a new website later this year, featuring archived student prose and poetry dating back to the early 1980s. Sam Zhang ’14 has been busy recording readings of older works, such as poems by Leslie Baker ’82 and Paula Smith ’82, for a future audio debut on the Web.

Along with the visual improvements and the literary contributions of 14 current students, the new Small Craft will showcase the original poem “Rant” by Professor of English Literature Nathalie Anderson, who directs the College’s Program for Creative Writing. The issue concludes with prose by Adam Dalva ’08, an MFA candidate in the Creative Writing Program at New York University.

The new edition aims to bring together various creative voices on campus, while also acknowledging alumni who have helped build the institution that is Small Craft. The current editorial team was thrilled that fiction writer Adam Haslett ’92, a finalist for the 2002 National Book Award and the 2003 Pulitzer Prize, agreed to write the magazine’s introduction.

In his short essay, Haslett recalls his own student experience with Small Craft Warnings, urging self-conscious Swarthmore writers to overcome their timidity: “So if there are still any writers skulking about on campus afraid that what they have to say is too raw or shameful to set to paper or put their name to, I only ask that you give yourself the chance to be heard. That’s what Small Craft Warnings is for.”

To order a copy of the spring 2013 issue, you may contact Small Craft’s editorial board at

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