From Assistant Editor to Author and Alumnus: Christopher Nelson’s start at the Kolob Canyon Review

Since its creation in 1994, the Kolob Canyon Review has helped shape the careers of many contributors and alumni who spent time at Southern Utah University near the Kolob Canyons that the literary magazine was named for. Christopher Nelson is one of them.

Now an award-winning author and editor of his own literary magazine “Under A Warm Green Linden,” Nelson credits the origins of some of his passion and success to his two-year involvement with the Kolob Canyon Review as co-editor, assistant editor and contributor. 

A transfer student from Dixie College in St. George, Nelson came to SUU in 1997 and finished his degree, switching from a minor to a double major in creative writing in the process. He shared that the KCR was a major contributing factor in his decision to come to SUU.

“One of the things that excited me about going to SUU was the fact that they had a literary magazine because I had worked on the Southern Quill, the magazine at Dixie College at the time, so I wanted to continue that work. I was very interested in editing,” Nelson said.

The current Kolob Canyon Review has a website, a logo, a print edition and a following. But Nelson knew a very different magazine during his time at SUU.

“It was a small operation at the time. We would hand make the magazines so they were handbound chapbooks, which was fun but was also a lot of work,” Nelson shared. “I don’t remember the exact number of people involved but it was quite small, maybe a few readers and just a couple people doing the hand binding. It was a great experience to be able to dialogue about what makes a good poem, what makes a good short story, and why we should or shouldn’t champion that work.”

A literary magazine was a personal requirement again when Nelson moved on to graduate school, and he became a reader for the Sonora Review while attending the University of Arizona. He explained that literary magazines offer a unique experience that drew him in.

“You don’t necessarily get to have those kinds of conversations in other forums and day-to-day life, to talk about aesthetics and what makes something beautiful or worth having an audience,”  Nelson said.

It was during his time at UArizona that Nelson started the blog that became ‘Under a Warm Green Linden,’ the literary journal that he founded and has continued to edit since 2008. His formative years with both the KCR and the Southern Quill led him to a career in editing literary journals that has lasted over 20 years.

“In looking back I certainly see my editorial experience at the KCR being really important. It gave me confidence in the feeling that this was a valid interest that I could pursue,” Nelson said. “While the readership may be small, it’s a rich and rewarding experience with a dedicated readership. That’s been my experience with a lot of creative writing forums. You might not reach millions of readers, but the readers you do have are an audience very dedicated to the craft.”

When it comes to the writing process, for Nelson the most important aspect is not the medium, but the mindset. It’s not about whether to use a pen or a keyboard, but where you can maximize your attention. 

“The process of writing a poem for me I think could also just be called the process of paying attention to something; be it a feeling, a trajectory of thought, or a subject,” he said.

Nelson expressed excitement about another upcoming project — the first anthology of Green Linden Press called “Essential Voices.” 

The purpose of “Essential Voices” will be to look at poetry from cultures that are misrepresented or under-represented, and try to bridge English language readers to them to hear poetry from some of the most authentic voices of that culture. The first installment will center around poetry from Iran and its diaspora and will be released in late 2021. 

“When we hear of Iran it’s usually in terms of fear and hostility, and that just struck me as such a great loss to all countries,” Nelson said. “This is a place where the voice of poets would maybe help us to have a better relationship.”

In making the decision about being a writer, Nelson acknowledged that there’s so many different ways one can be a writer and have writing in their life. He emphasized that whether it’s a side hustle or a lifelong career, it just requires time. 

“That’s ultimately the big challenge is how can you give it the time it needs… but if you love to write, what would the cost be to not do it?” Nelson said. “It seems like a real personal tragedy to me not to.” 

Submissions to the 2021 edition of the Kolob Canyon Review are open until Dec. 11. The literary magazine accepts visual art, creative nonfiction, fiction and poetry.

Story By: Larissa Beatty

Photos courtesy of Christopher Nelson