“New writers to shake us and take us out to sea”

I’d like to introduce you to IR‘s dynamite new staff: Jennifer Luebbers takes the helm as Editor, and Katie Moulton is Associate Editor, Joe Hiland is Fiction Editor, Michael Mlekoday is Poetry Editor, Justin Wolfe is Nonfiction Editor, and Doug Paul Case is our first-ever Web Editor. I’m sad to leave my post, but I’m absolutely thrilled about the incoming team. I can’t wait to see what’s next for IR—it’s going to be a phenomenal year.


1. Why are literary journals significant?

MM: Tons of reasons! Literary journals are the vanguards of literature—they are where readers and writers first meet up, where our community comes together. Without journals, we’re just a bunch of rugged individualists, carrying only our own poems and stories and essays with us. Then we’re just landlocked, because it takes more than one branch to build a boat. Is that true? I don’t know. The great variety of journals being made and read right now means we can always find new inspiration, new writers to shake us and take us out to sea.

JW: I don’t know.  In historical terms, I can understand their importance, but in terms of right now, I’m really not actually sure?  I know that, in my experience, IR has been an important center to our literary community in Bloomington, but outside of that, I can’t say much else.  I’m sure former and future editors will be able to mount a rousing case for the continued cultural relevance of the literary journal, but I come from a blogging background and have, since I’ve been familiar with them, been resistant to what I perceive as the insularity of little magazines, the walled garden effect.  One of the reasons that I’ve taken this position is to try to break down or at least inform that resistance of mine, to better understand what a magazine like IR really does and what it means to our larger literary culture.  In other words: hopefully I’ll have a better answer this time next year?

DPC: Because they’re the future! It seems like everyone is bemoaning the death of literary journals, but while print might be fading, there are many, many online journals thriving and doing the same things literary magazines have always been doing: showing us the future of literature. Find me an important poet or story writer who wasn’t published first in a literary journal and I will buy you a cookie. If you’re interested in the trajectory of literature, you should be reading journals.

2. What do you think about their future?

MM: The future is bright. There are probably more literary journals out there right now than any time in our past. That’s good. That means more outlets for artists, more editorial visions nosing their way into the ether, and, hopefully, it means more readers.

JW: I think the print presences, editorial course remissions, and other features related to the production and distribution of many university affiliated journals may fall away as our state governments continue to slash university budgets.  Journals without a strong online presence will find themselves increasingly irrelevant.  Readings, public events, and other forms of community outreach will become more important to the life of the magazine. These are not exactly controversial opinions, I don’t think. Overall, I don’t believe the picture to be particularly rosy, but neither is it necessarily dire. As former Poetry Editor Cate Lycurgus noted in a Q and A session at a recent reading, the frequency of editorial turnover at most literary journals is a really good thing; if anything will enable them to adapt to rapidly changing cultural climates, it’s that.

DPC: I am not concerned about the future of literary journals because they are the future.

3. What are some of your favorite journals?

MM: Oh, man. That’s a big question. The journals I love the most are ones that publish work that reaches beyond itself and into the world, work that transcends the merely personal and aspires to the realm of the social, the cultural, even the political. I love A Public Space, Ninth Letter, The Journal, Black Warrior Review, Sycamore Review. Callaloo. Muzzle Magazine, Anti-, The Collagist. Devil’s Lake. Tin House. Guernica.

JW: I don’t really read journals, though ones that Deborah Kim has forced me to look at recently that I enjoyed include Hobart‘s video games issue, Sycamore Review, and DIAGRAM.

DPC: Salt Hill. Juked. PANK. Ploughshares. Hayden’s Ferry. Columbia Poetry Review. Memorious. Annalemma. SmokeLong Quarterly.

4. What is the last thing you read that you deeply loved/that undid you/that made you want to write RIGHT THEN?

MM: Actually, going through some recent submissions to Indiana Review, I’ve found some poems that have really rocked me. Erin Elizabeth Smith’s chapbook, The Chainsaw Bears, is terrific—it finds a way to be both fun and powerful at the same time. The Collagist and Devil’s Lake have published some great poems by Corey Van Landingham recently. I am undone by poems on a daily basis.

JW: I’ll cheat and say 3 things: “The Responsible Thief” by Kate Abbott, Laurent Binet’s HHhH, and Drawing From Life: The Journal As Art by Jennifer New.

DPC: Anne Carson’s If Not, Winter. C.E. Morgan’s All the Living. Michael Dickman’s Flies.

I’ll jump in with this last question and say Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, Roxane Gay’s essay on Girls at The Rumpus, and Anne Marie Rooney’s Spitshine — especially “After It.” Wow.