Mirror & the Lamp Turns 10: Dr. Banash Tells the Story

Interviewed by: Peter Hostert

Peter Hostert: Can you give a brief history of the Mirror and the Lamp publication?

David Banash: Mirror & the Lamp started ten years ago. The Department had published a yearly newsletter irregularly for years, but it was written mostly by faculty and rarely included long feature articles. It also didn’t include much of any student writing. I went to the department chair at the time, Mark Mossman, and suggested that we should replace the department newsletter with a student-led magazine that would appear online all year long. At the end of each year, we would publish the best stories in a print magazine for both students on campus and our alumni. Many of our English majors were going on to professional writing careers, and by working on M&L, particularly those students who worked as editors, could gain really valuable experiences. Indeed, that turned out to be true, and alumni who did work on M&L report back that the experience really helped them, particularly in some of the early job interviews.

Peter Hostert: COVID’s effect is still rippling throughout the world to this day. What were some of the impacts COVID had upon Mirror and the Lamp? Do you think this ties into college campuses and student groups as well? Have you noticed a change in the participation of student groups and campuses post pandemic?

David Banash: The pandemic interrupted a tremendous amount of social infrastructure across the university. I think almost every organization was affected. During lockdowns, both students and faculty developed new habits. The introduction of zoom moved many meetings and interactions off campus, and it was just hard in the midst of all that to maintain student organization engagement. M&L did keep going, and we published during the most extreme lockdown. Indeed our cover on that issue, created by A. J. Rocca, shows a zoom meeting with students, faculty, and, imaginatively, a number of canonical authors, as though our whole relationship to literature was now being mediated by zoom. Post-lockdowns, we’ve been building back, and I’m delighted to see much greater student participation again this year.

Peter Hostert: As an advocate of Mirror and the Lamp, why are student groups and collegiate publications important in your mind?

David Banash: College is much more than just going to class. This is why campuses are so important, and why so much more happens on campus than just the course work. The most successful students that I have seen over the years all jump into the culture of the campus in different ways, becoming leaders, experts, developing new skills, and often putting to work ideas that start in class. By working on M&L, students get a chance to write about their experience and to go through the whole experience of being edited. Students who are editing develop both technical skills, from learning WordPress and InDesign, to leadership skills. They recruit writers, propose story ideas, argue about the form and direction of the publication. In short, they take part in all the creative work of building a magazine, producing it, and getting it into the world.

Peter Hostert: Is there a meaning behind the publication’s name? What does Mirror and the Lamp refer to?

David Banash: The Mirror and the Lamp is the title of a famous book in English studies by M. H. Abrams about the Romantic movement in literature. The title refers to two different ideas about literature and writing. For the neo-classical writers of the eighteenth-century, and really writers all the way back to the early modern period, writing was seen as a mirror. The best writing was simply holding up a mirror to nature. This changes for the romantic writers of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. They see the writer not as a mirror but as a lamp, the force of the writer’s imagination illuminates, or perhaps even creates, the world. The writing in M&L does a bit of both. There is a good deal of “mirror” in the writing that records the daily culture of life in the English department here at Western, but in many of the features and profiles, the individual spirit of the writers shines out too, thus the lamp.

Peter Hostert: What do you wish to see in Mirror and the Lamp going forward in the future?

David Banash: My hope is always that every year new students will come and contribute to it in new ways. As English studies changes, M&L will change, too. Students will bring to it what English studies and their time in the department means to them. They’ll perhaps discover some of that meaning by writing and editing M&L. This can be really inspiring. When the department chair meets with prospective students, they always give them copies of M&L, and that gives these prospective students some of the best ideas about what it is really like to be a student here because they read about the experiences and accomplishments as students themselves write about them. It makes so clear to new students the amazing range of experiences that can have with literature and writing here at Western.