English alum John Wang reflects on time at FSU, the origins of 'Juked,' and his current work
By Jessie Colegrove
In 1999, when John Wang created his online literary journal Juked, he never expected the long-lasting effect the experience would have on him and his career.
Wang started the journal and then continued with the publication once he started his doctoral studies in 2007 in Literature with an emphasis in Creative Writing from Florida State University. He recalls Juked’s beginnings with both self-deprecation and appreciation for the journal that has been a part of his life for more than 20 years now.
“Oh my gosh. That is ancient history now—we started it back in 1999, and we were such foolhardy, self-righteous kids who thought they knew better,” Wang says. “But I’m glad we were, because I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for Juked and what it meant to me all these years.”
Wang served as editor for Juked, which runs solely on donations, until his 2013 graduation from FSU. At that point, Wang began his career as professor of English at Montgomery College in Rockville, Maryland, and he turned over the editorial positions to Ryan Ridge, Ashley Farmer, Collier Nogues, and Michael Barach. In addition to his teaching and writing at Montgomery, Wang also serves as editor-in-chief for the Potomac Review.
Wang’s fiction and poetry have appeared in the Cimarron Review, Hobart, Quarterly West, Poet Lore, and other journals. He grew up in Los Angeles and he stayed in-state for college, earning his bachelor’s degree in economics at the University of California, Berkeley. He worked in the corporate world for a few years and taught English in Matsusaka, Japan, before landing at the University of Southern Mississippi to earn his master’s degree in English. He then moved to Tallahassee for his Ph.D. studies. Now, he lives in Maryland with his wife and 1-year-old child, and they are expecting another child.
When answering questions about his time as a student at FSU and as the founding editor of Juked, Wang noted that he “really appreciated going through them and digging up things I haven’t thought about in ages.” He also shared his perspectives on being professor at Montgomery College.
Could you talk a little bit about your current academic situation at Montgomery College?
I teach creative writing and first-year composition, and occasionally I’ll teach a literature course. (Enrollment and interest in literature courses have been on the decline, so there are fewer of those classes as the years go by. I think this may be a national trend? It’s a shame, but that seems to be what’s going on.) I’m starting my eighth year at Montgomery College, and I see myself here for the foreseeable future.
What do you enjoy most about teaching?
It’s hard to say—it’s kind of like asking someone who their favorite author is, or what foods they like best. There are many things I enjoy about teaching. The very tangible and visual impact you make on your students, explaining something to them and seeing the realization or understanding happen before your eyes, that is a big part of it. It is a meaningful reward, unlike, say, achieving quarterly numbers for a sales team—which can be meaningful too, sure, and I’m not looking to put down people who work in sales. As someone who used to work in corporate America, however, I find this kind of hands-on, instructional impact provides enrichment and gratification I could not obtain in an office environment.
I appreciate also the cycle of beginnings and endings that come with each academic cycle, a sense of rebirth with the start of each semester, something that is also difficult to find in many/most other work environments.
But thinking of other factors, I keep coming back to being able to work with students, the relationships I forge with them, the conversations we have, the exchange of ideas back and forth, the entirety of that experience, is what I appreciate the most.
What have you found to be the biggest differences between being a doctoral student and teaching and being a professor and teaching?
For me, I don’t see much of a difference teaching as a doctoral student than as a professor, other than the experience that naturally comes with more years of teaching under your belt. I was a more critical teacher as a doctoral student, but I don’t know that that was because I was a student, but perhaps more because it was earlier on in my career as a teacher. Certainly, there’s a certain comfort that comes with being a professor, but again, I don’t know that I taught any differently, really.
You write, you teach, you are the editor for Potomac Review, and you are the publisher for Juked. How do you manage working remotely right now?
Right now, in this pandemic, it is quite difficult. We have a toddler, with another baby on the way, and we’re avoiding daycare for safety precautions, and that means we have to take care of a 1-year-old while working during the day. The 1-year-old happens to be very active, and it’s a full-time job just being able to keep up with him. My wife also works full-time remotely, so we try to take turns taking care of the baby. There are some things that just get left behind. I cannot spend as much time going over my students’ work as I usually do. I try to cram in however much work I can get done during his naps. I stay up late to get things done, even though I will wake up whenever the baby wakes up, around 6 a.m. So, it’s been tough. But we’re lucky to have the jobs we have, and I just try to get through all of this without sacrificing too much in any one area of my life.
I read in a 2000 article written when you were a graduate student at FSU that publishing Juked was inspired by your frustration with the online publishing world and your desire to create something better. What helped you decide how Juked should be run and in what ways it should be different from the other online publications at the time?
When we first began, it wasn’t a literary journal, but more of a glorified blog. We thought we were smart, fun, witty, and we thought we had insightful, fun things to share, so that’s what we were aiming for. I suppose a dose of irreverence was involved as well. As for what helped me decide how it should be run, that’s a difficult question to answer. I looked at all the webzines that existed at the time, I noted things I liked about them and things I didn’t, and I tried to put out what I thought would be something I wanted to read. I guess more than anything else, I wanted the content to speak for itself, which is why we just post up what we post up, with a title and a byline and nothing else. I’m sure that can frustrate certain readers, but, I don’t know, it just stuck that way. No advertisements, no distractions, just focus on the writing.
Over time, Juked developed its personality, and at some point I stopped feeling like an editor, but more like a caretaker. Like, I was there to help it run, but it was its own thing, and because people came to expect a certain thing from it, I just tried to keep that going. If that made it different from other online publications, great.
How have you managed to keep Juked going for such a long time now?
Stubbornness, until I finished my studies at FSU and went to Montgomery College in 2013, at which point Ryan Ridge, Ashley Farmer, Collier Nogues, and Michael Barach took over as editors, and so it’s to their credit that Juked has continued to run since then. Juked had been such a big part of my life for so long, and was such a big reason I ended up pursuing writing and making that my career, that at no point could I seriously consider not keeping it going.
What do you think makes Juked stand out from other online publications?
I feel like I can’t really speak for Juked today, since it’s been edited by other folks since 2013, but if I had to, I would say that because the editors read the submissions closely and choose the work carefully, that there is quite a distinct editorial range, and that people have a pretty good idea of what would be a Juked piece. Or maybe just that we’ve been around for so long? Beyond that, I’m really not sure. I mean, I think it’s great, and I’m just glad other people dig it too.
Do you have any funny memories that stand out from your time publishing for Juked?
We’ve run a few contests in the past, and the very first one, the brainchild of Jared Hegwood, was dubbed the “Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangster Prize in Fiction.” The winner received a cash payment, but for second and third place, we offered “something pretty badass from Japan” (I was living in Japan at the time) and “something pretty badass from Mississippi” (where Jared was living at the time). The second-place winner was Corey Mesler, and I sent him a Smiley Dude Fan (that is what I think of it as, anyway), a yellow electric fan that had the face of a Smiley, and he had a body that stood on a surface, but you could detach his face from the body and the face could be clipped onto something. Just something fun. Corey, who ran and still runs Burke’s Book Store in Memphis, wrote this to me when he received his prize:
Got my major award yesterday. All I can tell you is that my staff was green with envy. And my daughter really bought the idea that I won it and deserved the prize.
You guys are stuff.
That is one of my favorite memories from the early days. There are many, many others, but it would take too long to go through them.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Depending on your financial and personal situation, to be a writer may mean putting writing ahead of other priorities, whether that’s a romantic relationship with someone else, or parenthood, or other aspects of your life. I know there are many writers who somehow manage to write and do all these other things, and I think it’s amazing they’re able to do so. I also know there are many writers who find themselves in unhealthy situations because prioritizing writing meant doing harm to other parts of their lives. I suppose my advice would be that one should understand what their priorities are, what they’re willing to sacrifice, and what would provide them with long-term happiness. Do you have a partner who’s willing to shoulder more responsibilities while you lock yourself down at your desk every day? Do you want to have children? If you do, do you want to be a good parent? Because that will take up a large part of your time, energy, and money. There’s a sensible point of balance somewhere in there, and you have to figure out where exactly yours is.
Do you still have any connections with the FSU English Department?
I exchange messages with my dissertation director, Professor Mark Winegardner, every now and then, and I was able to bring him here as a visiting writer at some point, so that was really nice. I’m Facebook friends with a few other faculty members, people I appreciate and think of fondly, but I haven’t reached out to any of them. I’m kind of terrible with staying in touch with people—I don’t want to impose or be a bother, and I know everyone’s busy. I’m one of those people who doesn’t say anything for years, but if I see you, I’ll be super happy and go, “Ay!” and give you a big hug and try to catch up on as much as possible.
Jessie Colegrove is a senior majoring in public relations with a minor in psychology.
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