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When College seniors Eric Augenbraun, Cami King, Joshua Bennett, Jon Howard and Chloe Wayne planned to launch the first Africana Studies undergraduate journal in the United States, their goal was to fill what they found to be a surprising gap in the academic community at large.

“We just assumed that there were [Africana Studies] journals somewhere, and we were really shocked to find that there wasn’t one,” explained King. “It was extremely long overdue.”

The journal’s name, “The Esu Review,” contains a reference to the “Signifying Monkey,” a common character in Yoruba tradition and African-American literature. King added that “Esu” is also seen as the “god of interpretation.”

Funded by the Africana Studies Department, the journal is a compilation of undergraduate art, poetry and academic articles related to the field. The pieces come from undergraduates at a diverse group of universities, including Penn, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, State University of New York at Cortland and the University of Michigan.

The topics also span a wide range, including jazz, the theme of physical disfigurement in African American literature and the city of Cairo.

“We wanted to create a space for students in Africana Studies — and a lot of other disciplines — to have a dialogue,” King said, explaining that Africana Studies is one of the most interdisciplinary fields.

She added that one of the project’s goals is to “show the diversity of our discipline” — a field that she and her editors are “madly in love with” — and to centralize Africana Studies in “one place where people can read it and start a discussion.”

Bennett, one of The Esu Review’s chief editors, emphasized that the journal, which he described as “pretty awesome,” is the only one of its kind in the country. He said its publication was a “complex endeavor,” which required financial support and professors who were willing to edit submissions.

Bennett added that the editing process was “rigorous.” After putting out a call for submissions to various listservs, there were several rounds of editing.

The process was really a “group effort, and we couldn’t have done it without the incredible amount of support from the faculty and staff at the Center for Africana Studies,” Wayne, another of the project’s chief editors, emphasized.

“The student editors worked together to brainstorm our mission and the type of space we wanted to create.”

Wayne wrote in an e-mail that Penn professors John Jackson, Salamishah Tillet, Tukufu Zuberi and Barbara Savage served on their faculty review board.

“So many people are doing really great work,” Wayne wrote, adding that the review’s ultimate goal is to “lead and sustain dedicated efforts to build a relevant, engaged and growing body of undergraduate work in Africana Studies.”

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