The original Review was created by the union of the College of William and Mary’s academic journal the Seminar with its popular student magazine the Royalist. The latter had been in existence since 1937, aiming to entertain the student body with samples of “the best and most interesting student work.” Its mostly black-and-white pages, printed within colored paper covers, were sprinkled with humor, illustrations, and commentary on campus life. The Seminar, a much younger publication founded in 1956, provided a venue for students to showcase more serious scholarly nonfiction.
Growing dissatisfaction with these narrowly focused publications prompted their merging late in 1962. A more inclusive and broad showcase for poetry, fiction, nonfiction, photography, and artwork was the result. The first twenty issues of the Review, published biannually, featured the work of students, alumni, professors, and local residents in a glossy, professional format. Editors awarded yearly prizes for outstanding student entries. Nonfiction pieces included articles on current happenings at the college and pressing student concerns.
In 1972, the William and Mary Review began welcoming contributions from those outside the college community. Though editors stressed that they would maintain an emphasis on student material, the change prompted complaints over the next several years from the Board of Student Affairs, Publications Council, student newspaper, and general student body. Students saw the Review as their own creative territory and were concerned about the difficulty of competing against outsiders for publication. A yearly supplement dedicated solely to student work was temporarily established in response, but editors, with an eye toward impressive publications at rival universities, maintained that the magazine was outgrowing its humble beginnings. They insisted that the quality of the material could only be enhanced by the solicitation of outside submissions. In 1978, the supplement disappeared and student work was published alongside that of contributors from the local community and beyond. In 1986 the journal switched to annual publication, and in 1990 it registered as a member of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses.
Well-known contributors to the journal include Amy Clampitt, Dana Gioia, W. D. Snodgrass, David Ignatow, Cornelius Eady, A. R. Ammons, William Logan, Debora Greger, Ron Smith, and Jane Hirschfield. Among its staff members is Robert Gates, the United States Secretary of Defense during U.S. president George W. Bush’s second term, who served as the publication’s business manager in 1965. Currently published in the spring of each year, the journal lists an official deadline for submissions of February 1. Categories include fiction, nonfiction, arts, literature, poetry, and short stories. Back issues are available for purchase from the publisher.