Student Spotlight: Courtney Ebert
By Nick Hawks
It was difficult to hear Courtney Ebert amongst all the background noise at the Joe Maxx Coffee Company. Perhaps a byproduct of the dropping weather, as fall in Cleveland is apparently interchangeable with winter. The tiny coffee house was packed with customers like an overstuffed can of sardines, many of which are Cleveland State University students in-between classes on this Friday afternoon. In the background, every few seconds it sounds like one of the employees was striking the counter with a hammer, “THUMP, THUMP, THUMP.” A blender goes off so often that eventually you stop hearing it altogether, like a clock that ticks every second. The bottom-line is it was chaotic, and it’s the perfect metaphor to describe Ebert’s life.
Ebert has many titles. She’s a Bowling Green State University graduate with a degree in French, a Cleveland State student in the creative writing program, she teaches at the writing center helping students write their Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) papers and she even lived in France for a year, teaching kids English, after receiving her undergraduate degree. Her most recent title is Editor-in-Chief of Whiskey Island, a student-run literary magazine here on campus that publishes works in poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction.
She has two undergrad interns, along with two assistant editors that read through submissions with her. If they all agree on a piece, they will put them in a spreadsheet to grade later. With a small staff, Ebert has to take care of the business side of things as well as the creative side.
“For my position, I deal with getting all the logistics together,” she said. “Doing book orders, some contracts and stuff like that.”
She has a personal taste for quirky stories, noting that going through them even helps with her own writing. She notices trends that appear in writing, something that she cautions against. A lot of submissions deal with drug use.
“If anything, avoid writing stories about drugs,” Ebert said, laughing but slightly annoyed. “There’s just so many of them.”
Having read through thousands of submissions in her college life, Ebert has also noticed that writers often put themselves inside their work.
“I feel like, there’s always a part of them inside the story, whether they know it or not,” she said.
Ebert has night classes every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. In addition to her work helping students with their papers, it’s ultimately her responsibility to read through thousands of submissions from all over the country, something that she sets aside her entire weekend to do, and she’s exhausted. No matter how many submissions she reads, there will always be more.
She even started drinking coffee again after a three-year hiatus when the semester started, but now she prefers tea, which she sipped on lightly throughout the interview. Despite being overwhelmed at times, she finds the workload worth it and enjoys bringing her eye to the magazine.
“Sometimes, I’m surprised,” Ebert said. “One story I read, the first page wasn’t the best, but I kept reading, and it ended up being my favorite piece. I was really excited about getting it published.”
Ebert can’t hide her passion for the magazine. The university has cut back on their budget and is not pleased with it, adding that there used to be three staff members that received payment for their work but now, her position is the only one that gets paid, hinting at a bit of guilt as she revealed the information. She has had talks with professors about making working on the magazine part of a curriculum requirement, but there is nothing substantial to it yet. The way it’s set up now, there’s a lot on her plate, which she feels compelled to handle personally because of her paid position.
At the time of our meeting, she would typically be reading through submissions, as it was a Friday afternoon. She has a gentle nature about the way she speaks, a soft tone, to go with her oversized brown sweater that for some reason, makes her seem more credible as a writer. Don’t let her appearance fool you, however, as she loves to drink beer and doesn’t shy away from sneaking profanity into the conversation. She gained 10 pounds the year she lived in France because of all the fresh bread she ate, spoiling her forever from the bread in America.
“It actually goes bad, and gets moldy,” Ebert said of the bread in France. “I don’t even eat bread here, I go to a bakery.”