I’ve thought about writing this piece for a long time.
One of the things I’ve long argued that literary journals need to embrace is transparency. Too often, writers believe that magazines simply publish their friends, and editors believe that writers only want to publish in our pages and won’t read the issue. Both stances are a bit extreme, but broadly, these are fair assessments of an environment that is too frequently opaque and combative.
I had decided that writing about which literary magazines I subscribe to would be a neat post to do, and yet, I often backtrack from it. Will I offend anyone by acknowledging I don’t subscribe to his/her magazine? Are their magazines I should be subscribing to that I’m not? How many magazines is enough? Who benefits from this? Does it just become gossip? There are many additional rhetorical questions I could ask about it, but in the end, I’ve sorta answered this in a public format already and walking through it might be compelling to our readership.
So here’s some caveats.
All literary magazines do “exchanges” with other literary magazines. On our complimentary list, we send copies of TMR to roughly forty other literary magazines, and vice versa. So, we receive copies of (off the top of my head) Antioch Review, Georgia Review, Meridian, Poetry Ireland Review, and many others, in our office. I could very easily not subscribe to any literary magazines and all and just read the ones we receive “free” in our office. This influences which journals I buy. Also, I’ve been involved with literary journals for about a decade, so I have a good sense of what I like. What I try to do is a keep a core that I regularly subscribe to, and then try new ones here and there.
Also, this is my taste; my subscription list does not speak for anyone else on TMR’s senior staff. Because I have a full-time job, I’m able to subscribe to this many magazines. Most people cannot do this, and this is not intended to be a “shame the readership” exercise. Of course, I hope if you can only subscribe to one literary magazine, you subscribe to the Missouri Review. That’s probably an obvious statement, but worth saying anyway.
The writer Cathy Day has written about “literary citizenship” and while I believe literary magazines are a foundation of that citizenship (new and emerging writers published first; innovative design and marketing; etc.) plenty of people focus their dollars on books rather than magazines. I try to do both, but that’s another post for another time.
Without further ado, here are the magazines I currently subscribe to:
American Reader. I’ve followed them on Twitter for a while, and then met the staff at AWP this past March. I like to add one magazine whose editors I’ve met at the conference, and since they were two booths down from us and I like the content they’ve been sharing, I wanted to give them a spin.
Boulevard. This is a St. Louis based journal that I’ve been familiar with for over a decade. Their Symposium feature is terrific, and they have a nice balance of regular contributors and names I’ve never heard of in every issue.
Cincinnati Review. Long a favorite of mine, the work they publish tends to be more … surreal? unusual? … than my own writing, but there is something hauntingly familiar about the world their writers dramatize. It’s also visually one of the best, both in layout and design; I love the fonts, art features, and, of course, the content.
Hobart. They’ve put a ton of material online in the last year or two, with less emphasis on the print journal: their web feature “Great Moments in Cinematic Drinking” and their annual baseball issue (every April) are two of my favorites. And when the print edition comes out, it’s always terrific. The content tends to be playfully serious.
Kenyon Review. Maybe because we both use the word “Review” or something dumb like that, but KR strikes me as the sister/brother publication of TMR. This probably makes no sense whatsoever, but they have a similar, though somehow different, aesthetic from ours, and the size and publication period and all that creates a natural kinship for me. Their poetry scholarship is always wonderful.
Natural Bridge. The very first journal I’ve ever worked on, NB is a publication from my graduate program. They do a regular feature of Author-Editor-Reader about a piece in their pages, giving all three stages of a story a chance to discuss the Why and How and Whoa! of something they publish.
The Normal School. Looks like a “regular” magazine only in size; everything else about what’s in their pages is strange and memorable. Sophia Beck steers the ship, and her sensibility can be felt in all the work selected. Shane Seely’s poem about being at a reading where a heckler attacked the poet at the podium (not Seely) about Hart Crane is a recent favorite.
One Story: The concept is so obvious and so brilliant, I wonder why no one created One Story before One Story. It fits in the back pocket of your jeans. It’s one story, every three weeks, and there’s nothing flashy about the design of the magazine or of the site: all energy is focused on the story. I’ve been a subscriber for a very long time.
Poetry. I’ll admit it: I read less poetry than I should. Poetry is digestible in size, stylish in format, and the quality is always high. Seemed like a good place for me to get my fix of verse and essays about poetry.
River Styx. I worked at RS for five years as the managing editor, so I have a fondness for them. The poetry tends to be formal in style and humorous in content. If you like sonnets, villanelles, ghazals, and pitch perfect rhythms, this is the journal for you. RS also publishes fiction and essays, too, so it’s a true miscellany.
Tin House. This is actually a fairly expensive journal to subscribe to, but it’s well worth it, and there is always one absolutely amazing story in every issue. TH has a cornucopia of extras in every issue: cocktail or pie recipes, Lost & Found essays on forgotten classics, very short essays by Big Name Authors, all wrapped up in a layout design that is elegant and sleek.
I think that’s all of them?
Here’s another question that came from Twitter: do I actually read all these magazines? Absolutely. Do I read them cover to cover? Of course not. I won’t pretend that I read every single piece. I gravitate toward fiction first, then usually the … “oddities” isn’t the right word, but Cincinnati Review has three writers review one book, Tin House has its literary artifacts, you know, stuff like that. I read as much of the journals as I can, and (try) not to beat myself up because I haven’t read every single word of every single magazine.
There are far too many books and magazines published every year to read all of them. There is a logic to how I divide up what I subscribe to, what I borrow, what I ignore, and, as with all things, sometimes those plans go sideways. I could probably subscribe to more magazines and read more work. I could also probably subscribe to fewer and read less. This is what works for me. Whatever works for you, I hope TMR remains in your plans.
Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye