Iris: 25 and hitting its stride
Journal about women is a small magazine with outsized ambitions
By Ellen Barber
Since its beginnings as a photocopied newsletter for the Women’s Studies Center, Iris has evolved into a glossy magazine whose national readership makes it unique among student-produced publications.
Now in its 25th year, it continues to mine new territory while holding fast to its original mission — “a commitment to reaching out to and widening the community of people who are actively working on creating a more equitable university, community, society,” said Sharon Davie, director of the Women’s Center.
Founded in 1980 by Davie and then-doctoral student Caroline Gebhard, Iris today has a circulation of about 2,000. That may be small, but it packs a punch. The journal’s content “has always been strong, honest, smart and quite different from anything you’d find in mainstream magazines,” said coordinating editor Gina Welch, who graduated from U.Va. with a master’s in fiction writing last year. Past issues have explored such topics as addiction, the banishment of Barbie dolls from Iran, feminisim in primetime television, menopause, money, scars, vampire movies and weight.
Early on, Iris published pieces that got the journal noticed by the likes of the Chicago Tribune, Harper’s and Ms. Magazine. And in 1993, it earned the “Best in Virginia” award in the black-and-white magazine category from the Richmond chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators. Some of the essays that appeared in its pages have since been anthologized: “Demilitarized Security: Women Oppose U.S. Militarism in East Asia,” by Gwyn Kirk and Margo Okazama-Rey, appeared in the fall 1999 issue and was later included in the book, “Frontline Feminisms: Women, War and Resistance.”
Contributors to Iris include nationally known writers and artists — such as feminist theorist Jennifer Baumgardner, scholar Margaret Stetz, cartoonist Linda Sherman, photographer Mary Motley Kalergis and poet Gregory Orr, who is on U.Va.’s English department faculty — as well as other faculty, students, alumni and writers from around the country.
Now, Iris is aiming for a bigger audience and has plans to involve more alumni in its creation. And by keeping its content and design fresh, Welch said she believes “Iris can be a staple read for progressive young women.”
Students produce Iris biannually through a three-credit course, “Feminist Publishing and Scholarship,” which combines “rigorous academic work” with the “hands-on, A-to-Z putting together of this journal,” Davie said.
To read excerpts or to subscribe, check out Iris online at http://iris.virginia.edu.
Reprinted from the summer 2005 Alumni News, available May 16.