It Starts With Us

Earlier this week I ran across Shane Solar-Doherty’s great piece “Support for Lit Mags Starts With Writers” at the very cool blog The Things They Read.

Solar-Doherty’s undergrad exposure (or lack of exposure) to litmus is sadly familiar to many of us who took writing courses, hoping to eventually find homes for our own work: “The most a professor would do for his or her students was print up a list of journals they could submit stories to. We were never encouraged to educate ourselves on the tradition of the literary journal or even to pick up the latest issue of a lit mag at a local bookstore.”

I’m sure there are professors who instill in their students an appreciation for the fact that literary presses and journals publish important work–work at the forefront of the literature today. But unfortunately, most students won’t run across such teachers. Most of us will hear a tacit message in professors’ disregard for lit mags: you can try to publish in them, but you don’t have to read them.  But let’s be clear: trying to make a literary life without educating yourself about the landscape of contemporary literature is about as wise as this guy auditioning for So You Think You Can Dance. You have to put in the work of learning about your art form–and in literature that means reading what’s being published now–if you want to be a relevant part of the ongoing conversation.

As an editor, I’m thankful for organizations like CLMP, whose course adoption program places literary magazines in creative writing courses. But I, like Solar-Doherty, would love to see more writers take the initiative to put their time, attention and–yep–their money into supporting the world they so want to publish in.

But as a writer, I have to admit that Solar-Doherty’s piece was a good call out to me. I read a good number of journals, and subscribe to the ones I like most. But I realize I could be doing more. This year, I’m committing to exploring journals I haven’t read or subscribed to before, and to reading work that might otherwise not show up on my literary radar.

If any other reader/writers would like to join me in that exploration, I’d love to hear what you’re reading, what you recommend, and what you’re excited about in the literary world. Of course, I’d love to see more people subscribe to The Los Angeles Review or Fifth Wednesday Journal, and not just because I edit for both. (Really–I think I can say without bias that LAR and FWJ are publishing some of the finest poetry in the country.)

But I’d also recommend a few more journals that I think are consistently strong. If you’d like to get a look at the freshest, finest writing in country, these are some great places to start:

Pank

Grist

Copper Nickel

Indiana Review

Gargoyle

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7 thoughts on “It Starts With Us

  1. Thank you, Stephanie! And I know you’re one of the few, the proud, the professors who encourage reading outside the Norton Anthology. 🙂

  2. I agree. Something I do that might also work for those on a budget (which means most of us), is rotate my subscriptions each year. I’ll pick 3 or 4 that I like from reading excerpts on their web sites or from single copies I’ve purchased here and there, and then subscribe for a year. It gives me a good chance to learn what they’re looking for, and helps support a variety of journals. I only wish I could afford to subscribe to more.

  3. That’s good advice, Joe. Something else I’m a fan of is swapping issues with another reader. If I subscribe to three journals and a friend subscribes to three others, we can share with one another. Not only is it budget-friendly, but it can create great discussion, too.

  4. In one of my creative writing classes one thing I did was to have students go out and purchase a lit journal on their own and write a report about it and present a poem from it – it’s a good way for them to get familiar with what’s out there – and it allows them some choice about textbooks, which is kind of cool – I also used Indiana Review as a textbook once as well. 🙂

  5. Kelly, thanks so much for this post. It’s easy for writers to get tied up in the curriculum or distracted by all the content there is to read in books and online. Literary magazines get so easily overlooked, though they’re so readily available to us with a couple clicks of the mouse and an exchange of a few (or more) bucks.

    Reading through the comments, I love all these ideas. Kelly, I think it’s great that you’re committing yourself to subscribing to lit mags you’ve not been exposed to previously, and Joe, I like that you dedicate yourself to this same goal each year. It really is important for us to engage with new content when we can.

    Hannah, what you do with your classes is EXACTLY what I had in mind when writing my post. Students should be encouraged to discover mags on their own and to give to their peers insights into what they’ve read. I personally don’t feel like that’s a strain on a curriculum, and if it is, I think it’s worth it to clear a couple of other expectations out of the curriculum so that we can expose students to contemporary literature.

    One last thought, and I promise I’m done. Kelly, you mentioned that you like to swap journals with your friends. Mel (my TTTR co-pilot) and I are pooling our budgets together to subscribe to a couple lit mags in the coming weeks, which had me thinking that we need to encourage writers who are not in school to subscribe to mags too. And if your budget is tight, why not go in on a subscription with a friend? I came up with this idea — it’s über cheesy — called Yes on 1: A Literary Proposition. It’s a three-step process that goes like this: 1. Pick 1 friend. 2. Pick 1 lit mag. 3. Subscribe for 1 year. I’m planning to put up a post about it soon, so keep your eyes out. I’m not looking to start a movement really — it’s more about suggesting the idea than anything else. I just like naming things and giving them steps. =)

  6. Hannah, I’m so pleased to hear you had litmags in the classroom. Your students may not realize it now, but you’re putting them far ahead of the learning curve when it come to what’s happening with literature right now.

    Shane, thanks for dropping by my blog! I think it’s fantastic that you’re putting an idea like “Yes on 1” out into the world. I hope it *does* become a movement; if people begin thinking seriously about the place journals have not only in their own publishing agendas but in terms of what they offer to the greater conversation about literature and culture, well, that can’t fail to be a great thing!

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