Scriptorium

Creating an Open-Access Creative Writing Journal in Brazil

Bernardo Bueno 

Bernardo Bueno is a writer and lecturer in Literature and Creative Writing at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul (PUCRS) in Brazil, acting as Director of Undergraduate Creative Writing. He is a Creative and Critical Writing PhD graduate (University of East Anglia, UK). He was a Visiting Scholar at the Electronic Textual Cultures Lab at the University of Victoria (December 2019 – March 2020), where he worked on a proposal for a Digital Humanities Lab at PUCRS University. He is also interested in the dialogue between literature and technology (digital creative writing, interactive and procedural narratives, games, geek culture, artificial intelligence).

School of Humanities, Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul (PUCRS), Porto Alegre, Brazil

bernardo.bueno@pucrs.br

October 31, 2020 

It’s probably a good idea to start with a bit of context, since Creative Writing is a recent field in Brazil. Even though there is no lack of good writers in the country, it might be surprising to think that there was no academic Creative Writing course until 2006. However, writing workshops were common: in bookstores, schools, universities, or even at writer’s houses, they helped in the education of hundreds of future writers in Brazil since the second half of the 20th century, becoming more common over time.

Writing workshops were the first step in building a Creative Writing ecosystem. The oldest workshop still running is the one conducted by professor Luiz Antonio de Assis Brasil at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul (PUCRS) since 1985. Over 750 students have attended it to date and many of them went on to become published and award-winning authors. This first experience paved the way to a new initiative that started in 2006: the possibility of MA students in the Graduate Program in Letters to write a literary work followed by an essay as their MA dissertation. By then, this was an emphasis in Creative Writing within the Literary Theory concentration.1 This newly established Creative Writing field in Brazilian Academia kept growing: it started with the offering of elective undergraduate classes in 2007, then an official concentration in Creative Writing within the MA and PhD degrees in Letters2 in 2012, a Creative Writing undergraduate course in 2016, and online courses (non-credit) since 2016. After PUCRS, other universities throughout the country started their own Creative Writing initiatives such as research projects, postgraduate diplomas, and literary events. PUCRS is still the place where Creative Writing is more established, which is why it attracts students from different states and even other countries.3

Our university, however, is a private one, and students pay a tuition based on their courses (public universities, run by federal and state governments, are entirely free). On the other hand, students at PUCRS Graduate Program in Letters, in their vast majority (94%), receive partial or full scholarships offered by the federal government. Scholarships are not available to undergraduate or workshop students.4

The university press (EDIPUCRS) holds an open access-only policy when it comes to journal publishing, so every PUCRS journal is available without cost.5 Authors are not charged—publishing costs are covered by the university—and the editorial team is comprised by faculty members, helped by graduate and undergraduate students. In 2018, according to a report by Science-Metrix, Brazil had 75% of scholarly articles freely available. More recent data from Nature (2019) shows that, while the country remains one of the world leaders in open access, Brazil is now in fourth place, following Indonesia, Colombia, and Bangladesh.6

This kind of output of open access journals in Brazil can be explained by the fact that a large portion of research in Brazil is funded by public money. As such, one of the demands from funding agencies is that the results need to be shared in open access publications, leading more researchers to submit their work to OA journals. In addition, OA periodicals receive a higher evaluation from the Ministry of Education—which translates to more funding to the universities that publish them.

Scriptorium was the first Creative Writing Studies journal in the country, and its aims are to publish academic works related to this field, such as discussions on the creative process, pedagogy, literary translation, interdisciplinary approaches, fiction, and poetry. The present paper aims to offer an account of the creation of our journal, drawing from my experience as editor. I will share our publishing process, the challenges in the dialogue between Creative Writing and Academia in Brazil, and our views for the future of this kind of publication, hoping that our experience can prove useful to other researchers and institutions wanting to publish similar open access journals.7

Scriptorium was proposed in 2015 by professor Ana Maria Lisboa de Mello, faculty member in the Graduate Program in Letters. Professor Mello was not a writer, but a literary scholar specializing in poetry. She was Scriptorium’s first editor, helped by a team of Creative Writing PhD students. I took on the role of editor in 2016, in the event of professor Mello’s retirement. When Scriptorium was created, Creative Writing had been an active part of the Graduate Program in Letters for ten years.

Proposing a new academic journal was a strategic move to help consolidate the field in Brazilian Academia and at PUCRS. The journal accepts critical and creative pieces; there is, however, a focus on critical studies, comprising approximately 80% of accepted articles. Since our main objective was to consolidate the academic presence of Creative Writing, it was important to “play the game,” focusing on the output that would be better evaluated by the Education Ministry and funding agencies: peer-reviewed articles. We also took into account that there was no shortage of literary magazines online, accepting and publishing fiction, poetry, and other genres.

Even though the journal focuses specifically on Creative Writing Studies, this concentration is still under the Graduate Program in Letters. This means that, in Graduate Studies, Creative Writing is not completely independent. This may not sound ideal, but what happens is that it grants access to a system that is already established: funding agencies and the Education Ministry will treat Creative Writing the same way it treats Literary Theory and Linguistics, for instance. On one hand, creative works don’t count as much as critical work, as far as regular evaluations go, but we have the same access to funding, travel grants, and event organization support.

Scriptorium is currently listed under the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and uses Open Journal Systems (OJS) to manage submissions. According to the Public Knowledge Project (2019, online), Open Journal Systems is a “journal management and publishing system that has been developed by the Public Knowledge Project through its federally funded efforts to expand and improve access to research."

During Scriptorium’s first year, the main challenge was to find authors. One of the challenges in finding critical submissions related to Creative Writing is that we were looking for people from outside PUCRS, since publishing a majority of texts from within our university would impact the journal assessment negatively. With two issues every year, usually published in July and January, the first issues were more difficult to advertise, so we circulated the calls widely, sent them directly to other Graduate Programs in Letters, mailing lists, and shared them on social media. The received articles would be, in turn, sent to peer reviewers.

When the journal started its second year, submissions started to come steadily whenever we issued a call; after its third year, we could stop worrying about not reaching the minimum number of approved articles. We aim for at least eight critical pieces and two creative pieces, and we have never failed to achieve that number, although, sometimes, the deadlines had to be extended and the calls circulated again.

To help with the number of submissions, the Scriptorium accepts texts within a wide range of topics: from discussions on the creative process to translation of critical works, genetic criticism, and interdisciplinary approaches analyzing the creative aspects and the dialogue between music, movies, and writing, for instance. The creative pieces are usually poems, short stories, or chapters from longer works. Today, Scriptorium is not the only place to publish this kind of work—only, perhaps, the most welcoming. Some Literary Studies journals also accept creative work, or critical pieces on Creative Writing.

The university support is essential. The Scriptorium team is responsible for proposing the theme for each issue, advertising the calls, sending the manuscripts to peer reviewers, following up on all those involved, and sending the approved articles to be published. EDIPUCRS is responsible for the journal website, ISSN and Digital Object Identifiers (DOI) requests, layout and design, as well as offering proofreading help. The dialogue between the editorial team and the university press is constant. EDIPUCRS also offers regular workshops on Open Journal Systems (OJS) to editorial teams.

EDIPUCRS states (2019, online) that “The EDIPUCRS journals use the Open Journal Systems (OJS) under the concept of open access. We follow the principle that open access to scientific communication allows greater global exchange of knowledge.” This aspect is key: the obvious reason is that knowledge should be accessible to everyone. Thinking more locally, and more specifically, it is really important to have a Creative Writing open-access journal available, since this is a new field in the country, and researchers need an output for their critical work.

Since 2015, each Scriptorium issue follows a theme. It is still possible to submit articles on different topics, as long as they remain with the journal’s scope. Some of the chosen themes were:

  • Creative Writing in the University
  • Creation and Voice
  • Literature and Music
  • All forms of love: Literature and affection
  • The Death of the Author
  • Literature and Revolution
  • Literature and Death (2 issues, following a large number of submissions)
  • Speculative Literature (to be published in 2020)

Articles are divided into four main sections: Themathis (related to the current edition’s chosen theme), Libera (critical pieces on any other theme related to Creative Writing), Translatio (actual translation or critical pieces on translation), and Scriptura (Fiction and Poetry).

In 2020, Scriptorium should receive its first official evaluation by CAPES (Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel), the main Graduate Studies funding agency in Brazil. This process is done every four years, and CAPES maintains a database of all journals, using a ranking system when evaluating them. The system is based on aspects such as being peer-reviewed and open access or not, if it has an editorial team, how many times the articles are referenced in other works, if it also publishes foreign scholars, the ratio between internal and external authors (i.e. how many authors are not from the journal’s university), how many issues are published each year, and for how long the journal has been in activity. The ranking system starts with C, and includes B5, B4, B3, B2, B1, A2, and A1, C being the lowest and A1 the highest in quality, according to CAPES.8

We are confident Scriptorium will achieve a good evaluation, but the process is not over yet. Our plans for the future are to achieve a high rank by publishing excellent articles, including international authors. It is also important to raise awareness of the existence of Scriptorium among scholars, so they can not only send more work for review, but also use it a source for critical studies in Creative Writing.

As editor, I can say the experience of working in a journal like this brought a new dimension to my work as a lecturer and as a writer, allowing me to understand the academic publishing process better. An academic journal is also an excellent space for learning: Since its creation in 2015, Scriptorium received the help of five graduate and three undergraduate students, who were able to acquire essential editing and proofreading experience, while learning how academic publishing works in the Brazilian context.

With this brief account, I hope to share some details on how Open Access publishing works in Brazil, particularly in a new academic discipline (for us) such as Creative Writing. In order to establish the field in Brazilian Academia, we need to reflect on it, though articles, essays, fiction, and poetry. It is only logical that if we aim to do that in a country as big as Brazil, knowledge needs to travel fast, and Open Access is the best way to do it.9 I would also like to point out that governmental and institutional support are not only helpful, but essential to achieve that effectively.

References

Assis Brasil, Luiz Antonio de. Bueno, Bernardo et al. 2018. “Alumni methodological and curricular notes for postgraduate courses in Creative Writing in Brazil” [Apontamentos metodológicos e curriculares discentes para os cursos de pós-graduação em Escrita Criativa no Brasil]. Navegações 11, no.1, 68-75. https://dx.doi.org/10.15448/1983-4276.2018.1.33020

Assis Brasil, Luiz Antonio de. 2015. “Creative Writing and the University” [A Escrita Criativa e a Universidade]. Letras de Hoje 50, special issue. http://revistaseletronicas.pucrs.br/ojs/index.php/fale/article/view/23146

Bueno, Bernardo. 2019. “Creative Writing in Brazil: personal notes on a process”. In: Harper, Graeme. 2019. Thinking Creative Writing: Critique from the International New Writing Journal. London: Routledge.

Bueno, Bernardo (Editor). 2015-2020. “Scriptorium: PUCRS Graduate Program in Letters Creative Writing Journal.” Porto Alegre: EDIPUCRS. ISSN 2526-8848.

Cipis, Marcelo. 2019. “Scientific Communication Without Barriers” [Comunicação Científica Sem Barreiras]. Portal de Periódicos CAPES/MEC. February 11, 2019. https://www.periodicos.capes.gov.br/?option=com_pnews&component=Clipping&view=pnewsclipping&cid=1489&mn=0

Niyazov Y, Vogel C, Price R, Lund B, Judd D, Akil A, et al. 2016. “Open Access Meets Discoverability: Citations to Articles Posted to Academia.edu”. PLoS ONE 11, no. 2. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0148257

Noorden, Richard Van. 2019. “Indonesia tops open-access publishing charts”. Nature, May 15, 2019. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01536-5

Public Knowledge Project. 2019. Open Journal Systems. Available at https://pkp.sfu.ca/ojs/

PUCRS. 2019. “EDIPUCRS: PUCRS University Press” [EDIPUCRS: Editora Universitária da PUCRS]. Accessed July 20, 2020. https://publicationethics.org/category/publisher/edipucrs-editora-universit%C3%A1ria-da-pucrs

Science-Metrix. 2018. “Analytical Support for Bibliometrics Indicators: open access availability of scientific publications”. Last modified January 2018. http://www.science-metrix.com/?q=en/oa-report

Suber, Peter. 2012. Open Access. Cambridge: MIT Press. https://library.oapen.org/bitstream/id/2cf60390-983b-49ef-bd36-3ebe8da99850/1004020.pdf


  1. This is always personal for me: I was part of that first class and, in 2008, I became the first one to finish the course, although there were four of us following that experimental path. Since we had no PhD in Creative Writing at the time, I moved to England to pursue a Creative and Critical Writing doctoral degree at the University of East Anglia, with the support of CAPES Foundation and the Brazilian Education Ministry. 

  2. Letters would be the Brazilian equivalent of English. The Graduate Program has, today, three official concentrations: Literary Theory, Linguistics, and Creative Writing, each with its own set of modules and lecturers, although students are free to take classes from any concentration. 

  3. Not a small feat, considering Porto Alegre is the last capital in the south, a cold place in the winter, far from Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, or the beautiful beaches in the Northeast region. 

  4. This situation is unfortunately starting to change: the Ministry of Education has started to make significant cuts in scholarships, especially those not studying strategic areas such as Engineering or Health Sciences. The graduate programs in the Humanities will have a lot less funding available in 2021. 

  5. As defined by Peter Suber (2012, 4), “Open access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.” 

  6. This was a surprise to me: not because I expected only a few academic publications in Brazil to be open access, but because I thought OA was standard practice everywhere else. This piece of information only reinforced the idea that research should be widely available, and increased the editorial team’s desire to publicize Scriptorium—and OA in general—even more. 

  7. More information on the state of play of Creative Writing in Brazil can be found in Bueno (2019). 

  8. This evaluation system is still in place, but it might change in 2021. As of July 2020, there are talks signaling that CAPES will use mostly impact factors (such as number of citations) to evaluate Brazilian academic journals. 

  9. As an example of just how powerful open access can be, a 2016 article by Niyazov et al. pointed out that articles shared freely on a website such as Academia.edu had 69% more citations after a five-year period.