A few weeks ago I attended a panel of literary magazine publishers on new business models for literary magazines (things such as this recently discussed over at Bookfox). Managing editor of New England Review, Carolyn Kuebler, was one of the panelists. As most know, NER is having to change its business model in a very serious way, since as of December 21, 2011 it will no longer receive institutional support from Middlebury College. The main way Kuebler discussed they would reach this goal was through more fundraising. But she also mentioned that there plan was to make the magazine indispensable. Or show that it was indispensable. I can’t remember which. Either way, it made me think about how literary magazines might be indispensable—an idea which seems to run counter to public opinion of them. What might make a few literary magazines unique, perhaps even necessary? What are a few lit mags that stand out as specific published objects, distinguished from other literary magazines and books?
1. Though—as CLMP’s Jeffrey Lependorf has noted—the New England Review has “achieved grand dame status,” the work they are doing is, I think, too little appreciated. Their last issue included stirring poetry by Matthew Olzmann and Howard Altmann and fascinating stories by J. M. Tyree and Christine Sneed. But lots of lit mags have such creative work (though arguably not of the continual quality as that published in NER). What distinguishes NER is the range and variety of the material in each issue. For instance, alongside those poems and stories in their previous issue were letters by Tocqueville written during his 1831 study of democracy in America and an argument by Robert Alter about the connection between the King James Bible and American literary style. And the current issue has—alongside poetry by Jynne Dilling Martin and stories from Beth Lordan and Castle Freeman Jr.—translations of writing by “France’s greatest poet” Yves Bonnefoy on Samuel Beckett and Adam and Eve, and journals from Ellen Hinsey comparing the Berlin of 1989 to that of 2009. NER is probably more like Scofield Thayer’s The Dial—arguably the seminal American lit mag—than anything else around.
2. The newest issue of Lapham’s Quarterly, their Arts & Letters issue, has received a lot of attention—and rightly so. The issue is devoted to the creation and appreciation of creative content, with Kurt Vonnegut on narrative form, Kandinsky on abstract painting, Harriet Beecher Stowe on the Louvre, Raymond Chander on screenwriting, Lu Ji on composition, the Coen brothers on Hollywood, the U.S. Government on comics, and so on for 221 pages and without ads. Each issue of Lapham’s Quarterly is an international compendium of thousands of years of creative and critical thought on an individual subject.
A typical issue features an introductory Preamble from Editor Lewis H. Lapham; approximately 100 “Voices in Time” — that is, appropriately themed selections drawn from the annals and archives of the past — and newly commissioned commentary and criticism from today’s preeminent scholars and writers. Myriad photographs, paintings, charts, graphs, and maps round out each issue’s 224 pages.
Where else in print does such a thing exist?
3. Though I like the content, the main reason I suppose I subscribe to GOOD Magazine is the fact that 100% of my money goes to a charity from a selected list. H.O.W. Journal—Helping Orphans Worldwide—is a lit mag from NYC doing something similar. Founded in 2006 by Alison Weaver and Natasha Radojcic, the journal is a part of the 501(c)(3) non-profit Helping Orphans Worldwide, using funds raised from subscriptions, submissions fees, donations, and issue launch party fundraisers to help such organizations as the Atetegeb Worku Memorial Orphanage in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the SOS Children’s Village in Zanzibar, Tanzania, and, currently, Safe Space in New York City.
H.O.W. Journal is an art & literary journal that publishes an eclectic mix of today’s prominent writers and artists alongside upcoming talents with an effort to raise money and awareness for the approximately 163 million children throughout the world that have been orphaned. The publication features works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry as well as visual arts.
What’s more, each issue includes work by prominent and emerging literary and visual artists, such as Tao Lin, Roxanna Robinson, William Giraldi, Carolyn Forche, Susan Minot, Justin Taylor, and Paola Peroni. A lit mag with a social—what’s more, a philanthropic—consciousness? And still publishing great writing? Seems an anomaly in an often very self-interested literary environment. But if there are more such endeavors out there, I’d love to hear about them.
Every Tuesday, Travis Kurowski presents Luna Digest, a selection of news from the world of literary magazines. Travis is the editor of Luna Park, a magazine founded on the idea that journals are as deserving of critical attention as other artistic works.