Save the Alaska Quarterly Review
By Michael Nye
Last week, I received my weekly The Review Review newsletter (one of the best literary newsletters out there), which I look forward to receiving at the end of every Tuesday afternoon, as it arrives shortly after our weekly production meeting. On a regular basis, there are all kinds of good links to good news in there, but this past week, they had some troubling news, news that I feel all members of the literary community need to act on.
49Writers, a book blog for and about Alaskan authors, linked to this story from Alaska Dispatch News:
Our initial elation at Monday’s news that the months-long prioritization process at UAA has determined that the university should invest more resources in arts, languages, and humanities was quickly overshadowed by their conclusion that the Alaska Quarterly Review is one of the non-academic programs needing “further review, consideration for reduction or phase out.” Say it ain’t so!
Over the last 30 years AQR has established a solid reputation–national and international–as a journal of excellence, becoming an important part of Alaska’s literary heritage. The Washington Post Book World declared it “One of the nation’s best literary magazines,” and Sherman Alexie named AQR “one of the top ten literary magazines in the country.”
Many well-known Alaskan and Outside authors saw their early work published in the pages of the journal (see extensive author index here). Just yesterday, when the latest issue of Granta–American Wild–was delivered to my mailbox, I was delighted to find a new story by Melinda Moustakis, “River So Close,” with the inimitable opening sentence, “She’s a good-for-nothing chummer.” Pure Melinda, pure Alaska. Melinda’s work first appeared in AQR 26 & 28–stories that were later included in her debut collection, Bear Down, Bear North, which went on to win the Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction Award.
Well, you might ask: so what? What’s one more or less literary journal? Who cares?
Down the hallway from my office is our “library.” On five great big overstuffed bookcases are all the literary journals we receive through our complimentary list (usually just called the “comp list”). We make this exchange with approximately forth other literary magazines, and it allows the editors (like me) and our students to read what our contemporaries are publishing. We have a wide-range of terrific magazines such as Georgia Review, Poetry, Kenyon Review, Colorado Review, and Tin House, to name just a few.
We also have copies of Chelsea, Triquarterly, Ontario Review, Shenandoah, Other Voices, Mississippi Review, and Story, to name just a few of the magazines that have shifted online or vanished altogether. Some folded due to money. Some folded due to time. Some folded due to institutional support. Literary magazines comes and go all the time.
But why let them go without a fight?
After all, what literary magazines are all about is publishing the literature that other places won’t, seeking new and emerging artists, reading and promoting work by voices that are shut out and silenced by other outlets. They are intended to be avantgarde. By nature they are underfunded and underappreciated.
Since 1982, AQR has been publishing some of our best contemporary voices. The many authors appearing in their pages over the years include Reese Okyong Kwon, Sherman Alexie, Aryn Kyle, Will Allison, Jamie Quatro, David Wagoner, and so many (too many to list here) important voices in contemporary literature. Ronald Spatz has built a magazine that is a fantastic showcase for excellent work, and one that needs the support of the literary community. Voices inside and outside the UAA community can make a significant difference here, and all it will take is a few minutes of your time.
Literary magazines and small presses are a community that supports creativity, encourages expression, provokes thought and feeling, all through a love of reading and writing. While natural forces may shut down magazines and presses at any given time, there is no reason to let them close because of our indifference.
Here’s who you can contact to express your support for AQR:
Chancellor Tom Case at email@example.com
Senior Vice Provost Renee Carter-Chapman at firstname.lastname@example.org
Letters to the editor at Alaska Dispatch News (under 200 words) email@example.com
Longer pieces to Alaska Dispatch News firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye