Susurrus – Not Just a Whisper


The class meets in one of City College’s aging, weathered, and not-so-temporary buildings that’s located across from Hughes Stadium. Inside the classroom, the wooden instructor’s table near the entrance substitutes as a snack bar with cookies, veggie platters and a bowl of oranges. Meanwhile, desks that once sat in uniform rows, are now haphazardly arranged around the perimeter. Student staff members bustle about, snacking and talking about upcoming open mic events.

Still, even in this scene of controlled chaos, the focus is on Dr. Steve Cirrone, who is perched on one the desks across the room. Before the business of running a student publication begins, he checks in making sure his students are on track, tackling each issue in turn before releasing the students to the business at hand. This is the home of Susurrus City College’s literary journal.

The journal is written and edited by City College students and each issue is produced over the span of two semesters. Each year the student-run journal publishes a collection of fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry written by City College students and alumni. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the publication, the name of which means “a whispering or rustling sound,” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

The first semester involves the selection and editing of submitted works.

“[In the fall] all the submissions are read by everyone in class,” explains Cirrone. “They have a discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of each individual piece.

The class then votes on the pieces to determine if they’re going to be accepted into the publication.

“If there are problematic votes—split votes—the class talks about them as a whole.,” says Cirrone. “And that’s when the conversations are very interesting.”

Back in the classroom, the students mill about. The adjacent computer lab is packed with page designers and students drafting up social media posts to boost the Susurrus signal.

Design editor and journalism major Emily Huerte lays out type in Adobe In Design as she explains that each page requires something different or special.

“There’s poetry. And poetry has its own layout. Every poem has its own structure. Then there’s fiction, and fiction has its own layout. So it makes laying it out a little bit difficult,” she points to her screen, indicating a page in progress.

“But I find that with every crazy situation winds up having its own rewards,” Heurte adds with a smile.

According to Cirrone, the fall and spring semsters dedicated to producing the book each have a different focus.

“[ENGCW] 450 and 451, the two classes that create Susurrus, are very, very different from each other,” Cirrone says.

The submissions are reviewed and revised in the fall, while the spring is focused on designing, producing, and marketing the book, he explains.

“The two classes together allow students to go through the entire process of gathering the materials for a book to producing and marketing it,” says Cirrone. “It’s one series, but it’s two different experiences.”

Throughout Cirrone’s three-year tenure as Susurrus’ adviser, he established a hierarchy of editors for the journal to help make the publication process run more smoothly.

“I found that having a multi-layered structure of editors was more efficient, and definitively made students more accountable,” he explains.

One of those student editors is 23-year-old liberal arts major Derek Tollefson, who currently serves as the journal’s editor-in-chief.

Tollefson says he has loved the experience and his very close-knit staff, which spent hours together inside and outside class to ensure the quality of this year’s journal.

“The conversations were all about writing, about art. And a lot of very personal stuff comes out in that kind of situation. People got to know each other really well,” he says of the experience of working so closely with other students throughout the academic year.

Susurrus head archivist and English major Robert Gonzales has enjoyed his time on the staff, and wants to make sure that students know it’s out there.

“Susurrus is sort of allegorical of Sac City as a whole,” says Gonzales. “It’s this really awesome thing that people aren’t taking full advantage of. The school is full of so many opportunities and ways to express yourself. The biggest problem is that people don’t know about them. And if you go out and look for them, you find these really cool things.”

Back in the chaotic classroom, English major Kay Barnes offers out snacks. She smiles and says, “It’s hard to put in one or two sentences what the best part of Susurrus is, because it’s so much more than just a class.

“It’s so much more than just a book of poetry and short stories. Susurrus is…” Here, she pauses for a moment, searching for the right word, then says, “Susurrus is Susurrus.”

Originally published in the Express – City College’s student-run newspaper on 5/6/2014.  Read the Express article HERE. 


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