Brianna Van Dyke was riding in the car with her husband when she turned to him and said: “I think I’m going to start a literary magazine.” He blinked a time or two and, perhaps befitting a guy who spends his days as a surgery tech in an animal hospital, asked: “What’s a literary magazine?”
Van Dyke got that question a lot in 2006, the year she founded Ruminate. It was a busy time for the now 26-year-old editor, who within months of the magazine’s launch became a mother and a graduate student. People wondered how she could take on so much.
But Van Dyke had a vision, and she could articulate it. Friends and family members became investors and supporters after she described her ideas for “a magazine of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and visual art that resonates with the complexity and truth of the Christian faith.”
She realized her premise sounded ambitious, even audacious. So she tempered her enterprise with the name Ruminate—suggesting humility and inviting readers to come together and wrestle with life’s questions rather than sounding so sure of itself.
But the joie de vivre of its editor-in-chief is clear in the magazine’s pages and Web site, which invite readers to “Read! Subscribe! Submit! Donate!”
And they do. Ruminate is becoming a ministry, fulfilling its founder’s dream of breaking what she calls “the unfortunate stereotype of Christian writing as supposedly not as literary as secular writing. Already we’ve published two Pulitzer Prize nominees, Frederick Buechner and Lawrence Dorr, plus other contributors of renown such as poet Luci Shaw and best-selling author Bret Lott, who judged our short-story contest. We’ve proudly published works by teens and by 80-year-olds. We’re always seeking high-quality writing and art.”
Ruminate has accomplished what few publications manage to do: survive, even thrive. According to the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, only a handful of the 200 to 300 magazines which launch every year make it past their first 12 months of publication, a sad statistic for people like Van Dyke, whose late grandmother, a high school English teacher, inspired her with a passion for words.
Now in its third year, Ruminate has grown its readership to 1,000 and has drawn praise from several corners of the literary world. According to New Pages: “Ruminate does what all good art should do: it challenges expectation. Just prepare to be surprised.” From The Banner: “Ruminate is establishing itself as one of the finest Christian magazines dedicated to the ties between faith, art, and literature.”
Van Dyke’s inbox demonstrates how Ruminate impacts lives. A new reader writes: “I have often longed for a publication that allowed for the art and literature of confessing Christians but didn’t require them to check the complexities and ambiguities of life at the door. Thank you for what you do.”
Another reader, a student and poet, sent this: “I have been deeply touched by the work I have read in your magazine. Every time I pick it up, I find myself stopping, pushing aside thoughts about school, getting a new job, what movie I should go see with my friends. It makes me pause and consider more deeply who I really am as a person in the Lord, made in His image.”
Brianna Van Dyke is young but not immature. She’s been tested by the rigors of editorial life – pulling the best out of writers and artists, culling the mediocre work in favor of writing and art with the higher standards she has set.
Her literary enterprise began with a $2,000 loan from her father and a first issue published gratis by her in-laws, who own a Chicago printing company.
After earning her bachelor of arts degree from Westmont College (“a wonderful Christian college which nurtured my faith”), she entered Colorado State University for her second degree in English literature, a master’s which she completed a year ago. The experience was jarring, eye-opening, and ultimately fulfilling for a woman as ambitious as she.
“I’d been researching literary magazines, finding 600 or so in secular niches, everything from a Nebraska magazine on environmental issues to a transgender publication. But I found few with a Christian perspective. I thought fellow grad students and professors would be more excited about my launch of Ruminate, but some didn’t take it seriously. Again, I was bumping against the stereotype of Christian thinking being lightweight.”
Their indifference made her more determined to succeed. “When I came across a writer I really respected, I felt encouraged and realized how powerful that discovery would be for other Christians.”
In her own reading, Van Dyke has been particularly influenced by Annie Dillard, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, French essayist Montaigne, and poet Paul Willis, who also happens to be her former professor.
Does a book lurk in her head? “Maybe a series of essays,” she says.
Ruminate is not yet turning a profit. “We’re one of the ‘little magazines,’ a category that’s the antithesis of big glossy publications with thousands of readers.”
Still, Ruminate is a respectable-sized quarterly at 64 pages. And its founding editor can see that it’s contributing at many levels, literarily being just one.
For example, her church in Fort Collins, Colo. (Grace Church Presbyterian), proudly counts Ruminate as a ministry. Some members volunteer time to the magazine or help to sponsor its community activities, such as poetry readings and art shows. Amy Lowe, wife of Grace’s head pastor, serves as senior editor and has helped shape the magazine from the beginning.
Also, though Van Dyke is only a few years older than college interns who arrive daily to her basement office, she’s passing along her wealth of literary knowledge and allowing students to experience firsthand the joys of editing, designing, proofreading, and sweating the myriad details of publishing.
Through this creative process, she’s showing them the face of the Creator—what Madeleine L’Engle called the “incarnational activity” present in writing a story or understanding the artist as a “servant who is willing to be a birth-giver.”
Carolyn Curtis is an author, editor and speaker living in Fort Worth, Texas.