Sampsonia Way is the in-house magazine for Northside nonprofit City of Asylum. It went on hiatus in the summer of 2018, but now, thanks to a group of students at the University of Pittsburgh, it’s back up and running.
By Nick Eustis
Photo courtesy of Timothy Maddocks
Springtime in Pittsburgh has returned, and with the warm weather and budding blossoms comes new life in all varieties. In Pittsburgh’s writing scene, spring has also seen a notable rebirth.
Starting at the beginning of April, Sampsonia Way Magazine officially resumed publishing new content after going on hiatus in the summer of 2018. Sampsonia Way is the in-house magazine for Northside-based City of Asylum, a nonprofit that provides shelter for writers under persecution.
Sampsonia Way was founded by former Director of City of Asylum, Silvia Duarte, in 2009, with the goal of giving City of Asylum’s writers-in-residence an online space to publish.
“The division for Sampsonia Way, the magazine, was to be a virtual space that was the same as Sampsonia Way, the street, where their artists-in-residence live,” said Tim Maddocks, the magazine’s managing editor.
The magazine published regularly starting in 2009 until the summer of 2018, when a sudden staffing change left Sampsonia Way rudderless. Duarte resigned from her position as director that year to return to her native Guatemala. Around the same time, former editor Abby Meinen departed to attend graduate school. This personnel shift left the magazine on an indefinite hiatus.
That changed in late 2018, however, when City of Asylum reached out to the University of Pittsburgh for help to bring the magazine back to life. This was how Maddocks, an English professor at Pitt, found his way there. Many of the classes he taught focused on digital writing and journalism, so running Sampsonia Way was a natural fit for his undergraduate students.
“When City of Asylum came to the English Department and asked if we would be interested in helping run the magazine, it just made sense to have one of my classes run it as a classroom,” Maddocks said.
With that, Maddocks reached out to several former students who he thought might be interested in the project, and assembled a class of eight for the spring 2019 semester.
While Maddocks serves as professor and managing editor of Sampsonia Way Magazine, he works together with his students to divide all the responsibilities of running the publication. According to student writer Maggie Medoff, each student had leeway to decide what job they wanted: public relations, social media, editing, etc.
“The first day of class, we got together and talked about what roles we wanted to do,” Medoff said. “We all had a lot of freedom to choose the projects we wanted to take on, and in that way, it doesn’t really feel like a class. It just feels like we’re running a magazine.”
Maddocks also encouraged his students to be creative and pitch ideas for the magazine. For instance, Medoff proposed reaching out to former City of Asylum writers and asking for book recommendations. This idea is now running as a recurring series in Sampsonia Way called “What Writers Are Reading.”
Some of the work done by the student writers includes interviewing City of Asylum’s writers-in-exile. Sampsonia Way’s most recent published material includes an interview with Márcia Tiburi, a writer, artist, and political activist from Brazil. Tiburi left Brazil shortly after the election of President Jair Bolsonaro, who is a conservative often compared to Donald Trump.
“Most excitedly, we have a Q&A with Márcia Tiburi…who spent three months at City of Asylum,” Maddocks said. “Before she left for Europe, she was able to sit down with one of our staff writers and tell her story of exile, and it’s so compelling.”
Sampsonia Way is also featuring some of Tiburi’s own writing alongside the Q&A.
“We have a translation of her writing into English, called ‘How to Talk to Fascists,’ and it’s like her English speaking debut. So it’s a big week for Sampsonia Way,” Maddocks said.
Maddocks will be continuing his work with the magazine into the future, with the goal to recruit more writers, as well as art and computer science students, to help develop the magazine and its online presence. He also wants to develop an audio companion to the magazine.
“We want to eventually begin a podcast series, because if we’re going to be sitting down, having these great conversations with writers, we might as well throw on some microphones,” Maddocks said.
Ultimately, despite the challenges involved, Sampsonia Way is a project Maddocks is determined to keep going, to benefit writers and readers alike.
“I think we’re doing very important, compelling editorial work and interviews, and we’re creating great content, but it’s great because it’s also a classroom,” Maddocks said. “It kind of gives us this great incubator for learning, being creative and having great ideas.”