Blow Up: 1969 Battle Over UMBC’s First Literary Magazine

“Literary Magazine to Determine True University Status of UMBC”

The headline in the February 10, 1969 edition of The Retriever seems a bit grandiose, as do the brash pronouncements of its editor, quoted in the article:

The staff of the magazine anticipates a lot of excitement on its debut. Editor Michael Jacobs stated in an interview that “the response to this magazine will be a kind of gauge on how far UMBC has approached being a true university.”
By Richard Byrne ’86

As The Retriever’s editor at the time, Diane Juknelis Tichnell ’70 knew what was coming: the new magazine featured a series of soft focus nude photographs of a duet between a male and female dancer, taken by Washington, D.C. photographer Robert Stark.

Stark’s photographs were not explicit. Indeed, they were hanging in an exhibit in The Corcoran Gallery of Art when the magazine was published. Yet Jacobs and the magazine’s staff knew it was a risky move in the Baltimore County of the late 1960s which had produced Spiro T. Agnew – the nation’s new vice president and most prominent conservative cultural warrior.

The literary magazine was distributed in a plain manila envelope to students who showed an ID card. Stark was punningly credited as “M.E. Nage” on the inside cover of the magazine.

“Michael did understand it was going to cause a firestorm,” Tichnell recalls. “But he believed that they had the right to showcase this kind of thing.”

Blow Up

Local media eagerly fanned the flames, egged on by the reaction of outraged state and county legislators. (One of them dubbed UMBC an “institution of pornography.”) Faculty and students quickly united against Albin O. Kuhn, UMBC’s first president, who first denied the magazine access to student activity funds and then ended its affiliation with the university.

“Those were the innocent days,” says former UMBC professor Wallace Shugg, who had an excerpt from his travel journal published in the controversial magazine. “But radicalization was growing. In the first two years [of the university], there was no politicization. It was rather quiescent.”

For a few months in 1969, UMBC’s literary magazine did define the campus and its image – vexing its leaders and ending the relative calm of the university’s early years.

Read the full story in the Winter 2012 issue of UMBC Magazine here.

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