“What force is behind that plain china off which we dined…” – Virginia Woolf, “A Room of One’s Own”
plain china is an online anthology of the best undergraduate writing, and the first of its kind on a national level. With this anthology, we want to bring undergraduate writing out of students’ respective institutions to honor and connect young writers and artists, to provide exposure for emerging talent, and to create a collective narrative reflective of and relevant to the undergraduate writing experience.
plain china originated at Bennington College, a liberal arts school in Vermont. Rebecca Godwin, an author and professor in the Bennington English department, saw the value of anthologies as both a way to keep up with current literary culture and as a platform for up-and-coming authors to gain professional exposure. She enlisted the help of a small group of Bennington faculty and students, and together they compiled the best pieces of undergraduate writing, along with standout undergraduate artwork, publishing the collection on the first plain china website in 2009. The Bennington Writing Prize, awarded from 2012-2014, recognized the best work in plain china, selected by well-known and accomplished judges in their respective genres. Since its conception, the anthology has been featured in The Undergraduate Forum for Student Editors (FUSE), and has published work that was later selected for publication in The Atlantic, Best American Non-Required Reading, Best American Essays, and Best of the Net.
Following Godwin’s retirement in 2015, plain china made the move from Bennington College to Virginia Commonwealth University.
At VCU, students continue to publish web-based issues of the best undergraduate writing on a monthly basis throughout the academic year. Now run by writer and professor Claire Boswell, much of the publication process has remained the same since the anthology changed hands. Each semester, the dedicated student staff of plain china combs through dozens of literary journals to find the very best undergraduate fiction, nonfiction, poetry and art.
plain china has changed over the years, though. The anthology now accepts submissions of any literary journal or publication that features undergraduate writing, no longer limiting our submission pool to college-based journals. While English majors continue to make up the bulk of our editorial staff, our team has become increasingly interdisciplinary, with a staff including students of literature, writing, journalism, mass communication, psychology, sociology, cinema studies, political science, criminal justice, art history, graphic design, foreign languages, and more.
In Fall 2018, plain china launched the first issue of Volume VI of the anthology on our new website, plainchina.org. Fall 2019 marked the return of the plain china Writing Prizes, modeled after the Bennington Writing Prizes and in honor of plain china‘s ten-year anniversary.
plain china has always been and will continue to be a publication curated by and for undergraduate students. Each generation of plain china editors share the common goal of seeking out and publishing the best poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction written by undergraduates. In doing so, we hope to capture, define and showcase the ever-changing undergraduate zeitgeist in literature and art.