Zack Turpin, graduate student at University of Houston, recently discovered Walt Whitman’s long-lost novella, Life and Adventures of Jack Engle: An Auto-Biography—and chose to publish it, along with an introduction, in the University of Iowa’s open access Walt Whitman Quarterly Review (WWQR).
Why this journal in particular?
For one thing, it exposes new audiences to otherwise niche scholarship. Zack knew that other subscription-controlled journals wouldn’t make the novella as widely available; WWQR’s strength is that it reaches everyone. This is especially important to Zack, who says:
“As a teacher, the benefit of OA, WWQR, and the platform it’s on is the ability to reach a much larger classroom. That’s what makes me tick. It’s great to write for specialists but to be able to reach people who aren’t specialized in Whitman scholarship really makes a difference.”
Open access publishing has also facilitated more visibility from the popular press, including the New York Times. They picked up this discovery as well as Zack’s earlier find, Walt Whitman’s “Manly Health and Training” (also published in WWQR).
Both New York Times stories have led to readership spikes for WWQR. In January, before the novella was posted, WWQR garnered a little over 7,000 downloads; in February, when it was posted, it received over 47,000. The journal’s dashboard allows WWQR’s editors to see just how many referrals come from popular sources like Slate and the New York Times.
Managing Editor Stefan Schöberlein adds that another unexpected benefit of publishing in this format is “the sheer speed at which translations appear: two German translations, a Spanish and a Turkish one are already out—and there are more to come.” In addition, “we’ve been contacted by a lot of general, non-academic readers and many have subscribed to our mailing list. It’s going to be fascinating to see, whether any of these non-academic Whitmanites will become regular WWQR-readers.”
In addition to appreciating the search engine optimization available through WWQR (Zack has specialized in SEO himself), Zack loves that the journal is well designed, inviting, and easy to navigate: he described it as an experience that makes readers want to stay and browse. “I don’t know what I’m looking for when I research, so it’d be fallacious to assume internet readers know exactly what they’re looking for.”