Legend has it that Thomas Staley, former provost of The University of Tulsa, founded the James Joyce Quarterly, fondly known as JJQ, in his garage. Or was it his kitchen table? That was more than 60 years ago, and since then the journal has become an internationally esteemed publication known for its publishing of critical and theoretical essays, notes, reviews, and letters regarding the life, writing, and reception of modernist author James Joyce.
Born in Dublin in 1882, Joyce is widely considered to be not only one of the greatest writers of the 20thcentury, but of all time. His works, though small in number, are known for being encyclopedic in scope, rich, experimental, and very challenging. His most well-known works include “Dubliners,” “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” “Ulysses,” and “Finnegans Wake.” His immediate, intimate, and at times predictive writings have remained relevant to audiences worldwide since his death in 1941. His writings have worked their way into popular culture; song lyrics by The Beatles (John Lennon was an early subscriber to JJQ) and the name for the subatomic particle quark are just a few examples.
Joyce’s work eventually captured the interest of Staley, then a young assistant professor at The University of Tulsa, who, after consulting with his other modernist friends, decided to start the JJQ. During the next six decades, JJQ would become renowned as the journal of record for Joyce studies.
“These are the people who founded Joyce studies itself, and they did it in the pages of JJQ…”
The mission of the James Joyce Quarterly is to be the flagship international journal of Joyce studies and to bring together a wide array of scholarship and other works that present critical and theoretical engagements with Joyce’s writing, life, and historical context.
Notable contributors through the years have included Hans Walter Gabler, who created the authoritative text on “Ulysses” used by most scholars, and other foundational Joyceans like Shari and Bernard Benstock. “These are the people who founded Joyce studies itself, and they did it in the pages of JJQ,” said Associate Professor of English and co-editor JJQ, Jeffrey Drouin. “We routinely publish whoever the major Joyceans are at a given point in time.”
Alongside the notable scholars who have contributed to JJQ over the years are the junior scholars who have yet to be discovered. “That’s a real point of pride for the journal, that it’s open to graduate student submissions and other junior scholars,” Drouin said. “We’ve also published people who are not affiliated with universities.” Joyce’s work appeals to a broad swath of readers, something JJQ has always embraced.
“Even after 32 years of doing this, I’m extremely enthusiastic…”
The James Joyce Quarterly is published by a team of editors and graduate students from The University of Tulsa every quarter. At the helm of this team are Drouin and Managing Editor Carol Kealiher.
Kealiher has worked on the JJQ team for a generation. Her time as managing editor has been guided by a passion for Joyce. “Even after 32 years of doing this, I’m extremely enthusiastic,” remarked Kealiher. “The fact that we’re continuing with new avenues for a writer who died in the early 1940s and was a very complicated person, you have to attribute it to affection.”
Drouin is the fourth editor of the journal and currently co-editing with Associate Professor of Law Robert Spoo, who is leaving TU at the end of the semester to take a position at Princeton University in Irish literary studies. Following Spoo’s departure, Drouin will become the sole editor of JJQ. In the tradition of past editors, he contributes an editorial intro to issues titled Plenty of Preposperousness, a tongue-in-cheek reference to Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake.” “I just always loved that phrase,” said Drouin. “It signals preposterousness, silliness, the joy of discovery and play. As did Joyce, he loved to play with language and with ideas.” But preposperousness also signals the idea of prosperity. “That’s also something that I really believe in,” Drouin added. “That we as scholars of literature are helping each other and our communities to notice and discover what in the literature will help our culture and the future prosper.”
Supporting Kealiher and Drouin are three graduate assistants from the Department of English & Creative Writing. The graduate students serve for up to three years and work their way up stepped positions. They start as the journal’s graduate assistant, learning the basics of journal editing, fact checking, format checking, reading submissions, and more. Those with more experience become the digital editor, moderating the journal’s Facebook group (with the help of the editors) while managing the website and membership subscriptions. Finally, the graduate assistants can work their way up to book review editor, who is in charge of acquiring people to review books on Joyce, sending the books out, and keeping the reviewers on schedule.
“Graduate students who work on the journal learn journal editing and scholarly editing, and they learn how to manage the business side of a publication,” Drouin said. “They’re getting a lot of skills, but they’re also getting important lines on their CVs that will help them get jobs in the future.”
“Sometimes it takes a little bit of knowledge to unlock it…”
From a scrappy garage operation to a flagship journal in modern literature studies, James Joyce Quarterly has contributed significantly not only to the field of modernist literature, but also to The University of Tulsa. Following the rise of JJQ, Staley used the esteem to help build the collection in McFarlin Library’s Special Collections. Through the years, Special Collections was able to acquire not only many of Joyce’s actual documents, but also his famous striped necktie and one of his 28 death masks. In kind, the university has helped to support the journal for more than 60 years. “I particularly want to give credit to TU,” remarked Kealiher, “who has supported these journals so that we could continue to publish.”
Sixty years later, there is still much left to explore. The most recent issue, featuring a cover graphic generated by artificial intelligence, uses Joyce to explore the issues society is currently facing with the advent of more sophisticated technology. In time, they hope to release issues honoring the women who have contributed to Joyce studies, as well as special issues on topics they have yet to explore.
“There are these very passionate and devoted Joyce reading groups all over the place, in the United States and Ireland, as well as in continental Europe and various Asian countries. So, I’m thinking, why not do a special issue on those groups and connect it to the public and how Joyce continues to be relevant to the public?” Drouin said. “It’s difficult. It’s challenging. It’s cerebral. It’s daunting, right? Not necessarily. Sometimes it takes a little bit of knowledge to unlock it. Once it’s open, it’s wonderful. It’s intuitive, and it’s a living, breathing thing.”