Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Reader's Guide to Literary Journals

Next to our Poetry section and across the aisle from Fiction is one of my favorite sections: Literary Journals. For those who don't know about literary journals, they are somewhere in between book and magazine, containing a mix of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, reviews, interviews, in an attractive, bound package.  Generally published a few times a year, they are less timely than weeklies and monthlies, like The New Yorker and Harper's, but they are still relevant. Many writers get their start publishing in literary journals before going on to publish thier own books, and often a journal will have issues centered around a country or topic that has been in the news. One of my favorites is Granta's issue devoted to Pakistan, with a cover designed by a Pakistani truck artist. I love literary journals. The right one can consistently offer me something great to read, whether I'm in the mood for something short or long or newsy or just want to look at some nice artwork.

Each literary journal has it's own flavor. The Paris Review, one the most well known and widely read literary journals, has fantastic in-depth author interviews. Here's a brief overview of some of the others that we have on our shelf. If you're a writer, check out The Review Review which is geared towards submitting work to magazines.

We're lucky here in Massachusetts. We have some of the best universities in the country and some pretty good MFA programs, many with an interest in the literary world. Some of the best journals are printed right in our backyard. Ploughshares, published out of Emerson College, has a guest editor select the content for each issue; the current issue's guest editor is Nick Flynn. Agni, out of Boston University, contains ambitious work that aspires to contribute to a larger cultural conversation. Redivider is put together by the MFA graduate students at Emerson College and is edgy and fun. The Common, out of Amherst College and newer to the scene, has a pretty great section devoted to images.

From the south, we have Oxford American which embraces all things southern flavored and publishes articles on food and film and fashion in addition to the traditional fiction, poetry, and art. They also have some truly stunning covers. Virginia Quarterly Review is one of the classics, and stories published in it have gone on to won a number of big awards, including a National Magazine Award. Ecotone's mission is to create a discussion place, which makes it one of the few literary journals who consistently publish work about science and nature.

From the west coast we have Tin House - one of my personal favorites. They publish some seriously good writers while maintaining a free-spirit, unpretentious vibe. Zoetrope: All-Story, with a nod to its founder, Francis Ford Coppola, has a Classic Reprint section for stories that have inspired films. McSweeney's and The Believer, both published by Dave Eggers' publishing house, are hip, thought-provoking and fun.

Out of the UK we have Granta. Granta has been around for a very long time and has published an impressive list of internationally acclaimed writers, though they publish lesser known authors too. They were the first to publish Bill Bryson, Zadie Smith, and Arundhati Roy, among others.

This is just a small, small sampling. There are so many newer magazines experimenting with form and style and content. So come check out the shelves!

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