15 November 2023
This past year I’ve been thinking a lot about the fact that most—all, the polemicist would assert—of the major stylistic interventions of the twenty-first century driving the book world now are born out of literary periodicals. McSweeney’s, Tin House, Fence, Jacket, Catapult. The cultural criticism of n+1. Even how something like Glimmer Train has maintained and inflected that old standard the realist short story. This is something not confined to our century, of course, given the monumental examples of “the New Yorker short story” and of Poetry’s central role in promulgating and popularizing free verse in the Anglophone world. These innovations are not coming out of schools or cities, but rather out of literary periodicals. There is no better means for building literary community than a literary journal. And yet, as we are reminded time and again (by the shuttering of Gettysburg Review, Tin House, Catapult, et al.), there is no commodity worse built for capital accumulation than a literary journal, at least now.
To what extent this relationship between community and capital is causal or coincidental is still not entirely clear to me, a consequential question, indeed. (Help, anyone?) But, for now: yes, I conflated “style” with “community.” On the most basic level, literary style can only emerge out of a group. Not only does it require more than one person writing in a particular way, but a literary style can only be legible and material in the book world through a concerted effort by writer, critic, and reader. Moreover, what the opening fact demonstrates is that literary periodicals are the lifeblood of the literary world precisely because they are the consummate means to experience collective, directed reading.
Last week a fellow editor mailed me a printout of a Substack essay, Paul Zakrzewski’s “The Gettysburg Review is dead—is it time for lit journals to reconsider their model?,” with her annotations, and I’ve returned them just now with my thoughts. One of the points my fellow editor-friend and I have focused on is this paragraph:
More than this, lit journals need to think about creating and fostering a creative community around them. Citing [Jane] Friedman’s book [The Business of Being a Writer], [Travis] Kurowski says lit journals need to offer more than just stories, poems, and essays—they need to offer a space to experience and understand that writing.
Of course, community engagement and facilitation are central to a thriving literary journal, at least as we see it here, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that literature itself—the stories, poems, and essays—offer the engaged reader sufficient space to experience and understand its own writing. This is the bread and butter of literary influence.
I might be too literal with “experience” and “understand,” two notoriously diffuse and shape-shifting words, but this little tangle does still get at something, I believe. A readership is a community, whether geographically dispersed or locally bound. (The tendency for publication is the former, which is its strength and limitation.) I take up Kurowski’s charge to “creat[e] and foster a creative community,” but I also believe that just stories, poems, and essays suffice—given the right environment. What might be overlooked is the literary journal’s American legacy as an important instrument for the transformation of Southern Agrarian thought into New Critical tenets and practices during the mid-twentieth century. The objectivity and anti-historicism that underwrites the formidable critical movement require the core concept of an “ideal reader.” If literary journals are one of the best means to build literary community, with their collective, directed, and periodic nature of reading, then literary journals at the service of fashioning “ideal” readers out of all of us build, by definition, monolithic communities. Our general conception of the literary journal, particularly ones out of academic institutions, comes directly from this moment, and I would say that the true way to get at the root of the problem Kurowski and Friedman diagnose is to discover ways for literary journals to encourage, push, and advocate for different reading practices. In a future issue, we will be publishing a brilliant essay about friendship by a philosopher. (Stay tuned and subscribed so that you don’t miss it.) I emailed him, “I’m taken by the velocity of thought and/as the velocity of language.” “I’m pleased it resonated,” he replied, adding, “I aspire to write prose that accelerates and decelerates in a manner that energizes a reader and makes room for thought between us.” Well, I aspire to have GR be a space for energized readers and such room for thought, which would essentially be a creative community. Literary style can certainly prompt readers to read a certain way, but the beauty of aesthetic difficulty is that it relinquishes some of the object’s control on meaning-making to the reader, beholder, interpreter, and that’s where the literary journal—merely the publication itself—can step in.
I am proud to have in this issue the opening chapter of Édouard Glissant’s final novel, Ormerod, translated by, in my opinion, the master of Glissant translations, Betsy Wing. With the opening prelude, this writer of The Poetics of Relation presses us to “make room for thought between us,” that final pronoun bifurcated into, on the one hand, the motley collection of readers and, on the other, the text. John Kinsella has a series of poems coupled with photos made by an obsolescent digital camera to simulate a pinhole camera. This is part of a nonviolent neo-Luddite project bent on “reducing tech” to undo capitalism, however possible. We also have the winner and featured finalists of the Loraine Williams Poetry Prize. Will Pei Shih shares a touching story about a woman struggling in a precarious academic position, and Christopher Kempf has a moving, insightful essay about the armed protest at Cornell University in 1969.
From around the office:
• Please welcome our new marketing and outreach manager, Aria Curtis! She is an Atlanta native who has had years of experience in marketing, communication, and event-planning in places like the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, Alexander Pest Control, and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
• We are thrilled to congratulate Brandon Som on being a finalist for the National Book Award in poetry. His second book, Tripas, is published by Georgia Review Books. Get your copy now, if you haven’t read it yet. Remember: you can buy it straight from our website; get free shipping and avoid the techno-glomerates.
• We are equally thrilled to announce that Brenda Iijima’s debut novel, Presence, is out now from Georgia Review Books. She will be presenting something from it for a performance commissioned by the Dia Foundation, with sound artist Johann Diedrick, to take place on 17 May 2024.
• Although I’ve said that literature itself can enable the creation of a creative community, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t meet up, hang out, and enjoy literature in the flesh. We have great readings in Athens this spring. Jennine Capó and Brian Truong will be at the Athens Public Library on 19 January. Sandeep Parmar, Vidyan Ravinthiran, and Lawrence Venuti will be here 13–16 March. And Hanif Abdurraqib and Xinyue Huang will be at the 40 Watt Club on 29 April.