Wheaton-based journal uses art to empower those with mental illness
Amy Barlow Liberatore calls herself a stigma buster.
The singer, songwriter and poet from Attica, N.Y., wants the world to know her immense creativity is actually a pleasant result of manic depression.
By submitting poems to The Awakenings Review - a Wheaton-based literary journal featuring fiction, poetry, art and essays by people living with mental illness in some way - Liberatore was able to break barriers of discrimination about mental illness that she often finds herself up against.
"I went through a time that was hell with my mental illness," she said. "But coming out the other end of it and then being able to celebrate it in this journal - it's a miracle."
On Saturday, July 31, both the editorial board and the contributors will celebrate the magazine's 10 years in print with a poetry slam and fundraiser for future issues at the Lake Ellyn boathouse in Glen Ellyn.
Robert Lundin, the journal's founder and editor, is thrilled about the milestone.
"I had no idea it would be as widely distributed as it is now, and I really had no idea we would still be producing magazines at 10 years," he said.
Associate Editor Irene O'Neill said the journal started with one small ad in Poets and Writers Magazine that mentioned editors were looking for writers on the subject of mental illness.
"It's just been word-of-mouth since then," she said. "We get about 300 submissions a year. Almost every day I go to the P.O. box there's a submission."
Entries come from across the nation and around the world, including places as far away as Denmark, South Africa and Israel.
Those published in the magazine are limited to either survivors and past patients treated for mental illness or family members and friends of someone who struggles with mental illness.
Lundin said one reason the 10 year mark is so important for the journal is because of the community of writers, and consumers, it has formed.
"It has a niche in the marketplace," he said. "There's some real discrimination, or some real stigma there, on the part of mainstream literary magazines, but we do publish that stuff."
O'Neill added that the magazine's decade in print is a big accomplishment because "not that many journals are able to stay in business for this long."
It costs about $2,500 to publish each annual issue of The Awakenings Review, a price that limits the number of submissions that can be included per volume.
"We have to sort through it and pick about 10 percent," O'Neill said. "We have to pick the best of the best and it's really hard, but we encourage people to continue to submit because we want to continue to be able to publish."
Currently, the journal has only about 50 subscribers, but between 500 and 1,000 copies are distributed each year at various mental illness conferences, such as the one for the National Association of the Mentally Ill.
One of those conferences was where Liberatore discovered the magazine. She has since had three of her poems published in Awakenings and plans to eventually submit more.
"I really believe in the project," she said. "I think we need more avenues for people to be able to do this."
As far as the future goes with The Awakenings Review, all the editors and writers have two clear wishes in order to raise even more awareness of the relationship between mental illness and creativity: a larger subscription list and more widespread distribution.
"I wish that this was at Barnes and Noble, on bookshelves at every place that accepts magazines," Liberatore said.
"I hope that libraries in particular will make sure that they pick up copies of this because very often folks who are struggling with mental illness can't go to a book store and buy something, but they can go to a library."
Then she added one more wish: "I hope that people will see this as a project worth donating to because it's certainly making a difference in a lot of people's lives."