VCU online literary journal Blackbird launches new website and publishing schedule

February 7, 2024
Screencap of Blackbird's website

Blackbird, the online literary journal edited by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of English, launched a new website and announced a new publishing schedule Jan. 24. 

The user-friendly website,, features a minimalistic framework with decorative elements that reference the natural landscape of Richmond, and it will support more visual art and audio and video projects. It was designed by Red Orange Studio, a Richmond-based design agency. 

“We wanted a new design that honored the tradition of the journal,” said English professor and faculty editor Kathy Graber. “The founding editors built Blackbird with a rock-solid foundation and set a high bar. They were meticulous in the presentation and the selection of the quality of writing. This new website will be more fully compatible with current technologies and will also be more conveniently searchable by readers. It will also be fully compliant with current requirements for visitors to the site who may have auditory or visual challenges.”

The new design also provides a greater showcase for the visual arts. The inaugural issue features Cesar Piedra, an interdisciplinary artist who explores the rich history of the Mesoamerican and Mexican-American cultures.

“With the new design, we can foreground our featured visual artists in each issue. This creates space for a conversation between text and visual art, and an aesthetic that shifts with each Flight,” said assistant English professor and faculty editor Jessica Hendry Nelson.  

VCU Libraries provided technical support for the project, which builds on a firm foundation of successful collaborations between the VCU Department of English and VCU Libraries. Previous collaborations include the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award (since 2002), the Levis Reading Prize (since 1998), as well as hosting numerous literary events, most recently the reading by Zoë Gadegbeku as the 2023 winner of the Rebecca Mitchell Tarumoto Short Fiction Prize. 

From 2018-2019, VCU Libraries and the Department of English embarked on a year-long project with national digital scholarship consultants to chart a future direction for the continued success and sustainability of Blackbird. During this period VCU Libraries was expanding its publishing capacity, which now includes hosting seven open access peer-reviewed journals and other digital projects. VCU Libraries also extended its publishing infrastructure to include a platform to host the James Branch Cabell: Literary Life and Legacy site and the Social Welfare History Project.
As the VCU Libraries and the Department of English wrestled with the findings from the Blackbird sustainability report there were numerous points of intersection with the publishing and educational missions of both organizations. In the spring of 2023, VCU Libraries committed to host a newly envisioned Blackbird and provide additional support including promotion, accessibility, backups, design referrals, and assisting with a strategy to bridge the new site and the existing archive.

The website contains a link to the Founders’ Archive, which will house all previous issues of Blackbird. The site is hosted by VCU Libraries, which provided support with ADA compliance and web troubleshooting during the redesign process.

With the new publication schedule, Blackbird will produce four issues a year, two of which will be themed issues. The previous publication schedule included two issues (fall and spring). Now called Flights, the new issues will be shorter than previous editions, though with the same amount of content spread over the year. 

"It was wonderful working with Jessica Nelson]and Kathleen Graber, along with Red Orange Studio, to bring this new version of Blackbird to life with enhanced features and accessible design," said Ashley Brewer, senior web and user experience librarian who served as the libraries' project manager. "We're excited about this partnership with the Department of English and hosting Blackbird under our VCU Libraries web offerings."  

Blackbird was founded in 2001 as a joint venture of the VCU Department of English and New Virginia Review Inc. Over the years, Blackbird has featured the work of Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners, including poems by Tomas Tranströmer and Philip Levine. In 2006, Blackbird made international news when it featured a previously unpublished poem by poet Sylvia Plath.

Funding for the website redesign project came from VCU’s College of Humanities and Sciences and Friends of Blackbird, a group of donors and alumni of the journal.

For more information, please contact faculty editors Kathy Graber at or Jessica Hendry Nelson at

By Alexis Finc. This article first appeared in VCU News.

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