At the IR Editors Showcase, we were presented with some challenging, excellent questions. I asked our outgoing and incoming genre editors to respond, and I’ve corralled their answers for you. Today, we have Fiction Editor Rachel Lyon, Poetry Editor Cate Lycurgus, and Nonfiction Editor Sarah Suksiri!
1. Why are literary journals significant?
RL: I think the most meaningful thing to me about lit journals is that they’re a way of forming community without necessarily sharing a space. We can read the work of other writers, and feel close to them, and participate in the dialogues that interest us with people whose work we respect, without being in the same city or state or country. Plus, because they are curated by editors who know something about what’s going on in their field, the quality of work tends to be higher.
CL: Literary publications are a testament to the power of the imagination and the power of language, both of which are undervalued, yet necessary parts of our lives–in order to innovate, to make sense of the nonsensical, to connect with others, to provide wonder or surprise or consolation or astonishment. Literary journals have the potential to find this expression and to share it.
SS: Journals are significant, because they make us keep asking this question. Seriously, what other line of work and craft is there where the participants keep asking themselves, “Is anything that we’re doing relevant?” The fact that we (journals) are so concerned with what it is that moves and thrums in the world is part of what makes us relevant.
2. What do you think about their future?
RL: As long as people write, there will be journals; people will always write, so there will always be journals. The state of printed matter may change, paper may no longer be the medium of choice, but the periodical will persist. If anything, I think the number of small journals has increased even as many large, for-profit magazines collapse. I suspect that trend will continue, and that as more journals pop up they will begin to serve more and more rarefied niche audiences in order to make space for themselves in a vast, variegated landscape.
CL: I think there will always be people for whom stories and poems and words matter. I also think there will be people who want to hold and read a physical book. On the other hand, it’s crucial for journals to recognize that today’s financial and technical realities make print journals an ever-more challenging proposition. Journals themselves will need to be creative in the strategies for disseminating their gems.
SS: Journals will engage their digital alter-egos more intelligently and elegantly; their print counterparts will become more elegant and efficient, embracing their irreplaceable role as art and artifact. The whole idea of what constitutes a “publication” will evolve magnificently.
3. What are some of your favorite journals?
RL: Geist, Works in Progress, One Story, Zoetrope, Alimentum . . . there are so many.
CL: Crazyhorse, A Public Space, DIAGRAM, The Sun, Gulf Coast, Poetry, especially the December issues!
SS: Currently: Narrative Magazine, Brevity, Armchair/Shotgun.
4. What is the last thing you read that you deeply loved/that undid you/that made you want to write RIGHT THEN?
RL: I was deeply inspired by Nathan Englander’s story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank” (from his eponymous collection), which came out in The New Yorker last year. I am just so impressed with the way he used Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” thematically and structurally, without letting his story become at all derivative. His work is clever without being insincere, and has a kind of spare clarity that recalls Carver without imitating him. That story made me think a lot about how we pay homage to the writers we love. I ended up using it as a kind of guide while working on a piece I wrote for the Flannery O’Connor colloquium we had here, called “Good City People.”
CL: A few poems in Todd Boss’s Pitch. Or Brenda Hillman’s Practical Water. Although I was so blown away and intimidated by that one, I don’t know that I could have picked up a pen!
SS: Anything by Gerald Stern or Steve Scafidi or Gianni Celati.