Just two things this week.
First: Last week was our exhausting and hopefully exhaustive week-long look at McSweeney’s Tolstoyesque (in length) issue 33, the Panorama newspaper issue. Reading the issue all week was sort of like hanging around in the physics lab of literary publishing, if there were one, and with Richard Feynman rather than Freeman Dyson. Lots of hollering, throwing things against the wall.
This week, assistant editor Marcelle Heath introduces another installment in LP’s ongoing series on race, class, gender, and sexuality in literary publishing. Here’s Heath’s series introduction:
The idea for a series on race, class, gender, and sexuality evolved organically from reading literary magazines, blogs, sites, small and large press catalogs, reviews, best of lists, and the like. Discussions about these issues are robust within the academy, and I wanted to respond to how they surface in literary communities. There were two watershed moments this past year that provided an opportunity to engage in this dialogue. In August 2009, Roxane Gay, assistant editor for PANK, posted “Awkward Stuff: Race, Women, Writers, Editors,” decrying the scarcity of writers of color and women writers in independent publishing. While many voices echoed Gay’s concerns and conveyed their own similar experiences, others bitterly and aggressively dismissed her claims outright. In November, Publishers Weekly published their Best Books of 2009, which did not include any women writers. Again, the responses ran the gamut between outrage at the pervasive sexism within the publishing industry, and hostility towards those who claimed that the omission of women was anything but merit-based. Our intention is to explore how exclusionary practices dominate the publishing landscape and how writers and editors respond to such practices. To begin our series, Roxane Gay addressed the numerous comments to her PANK post in “I Don’t Know How to Write About Race.” In our second installment, below, we talk with Jarrett Haley, editor of BULL: Fiction for Thinking Men about masculinity, violence, gendered divisions of labor, and PW’s list.
The entire interview is up online, but here’s an interesting bit from Jarrett on publishing women in BULL:
Haley: Since then we’ve had about the same slim success in receiving submissions by women, which doesn’t bode well for much success in publishing submissions by women. Out of the few we get something clicks every now and then and I’m happy when it does, because I think BULL is all the better for it as far as perspective. But saying “success” here feels a bit squirmy to me, as if it’s something we’re actively trying to do. All we try to do at BULL is put out the best of what writing we receive, regardless of who or where that writing comes from. To do anything otherwise would be corrupt.
And, second: Virginia Quarterly Review editor Ted Genoways wrote a brief article for Mother Jones arguing that a great amount of pointlessness exists in work currently published in literary magazines—and, what’s more, that it is perhaps time to write such magazines off. What was most interesting was not Genoways’s argument, but rather the great reaction in the comment box at Mother Jones. Editors and writers such as Gina Frangello, Matt Bell, and Timothy Schaffert weighed in. But this wasn’t quite the end: Roxane Gay added her two cents about Genoways’s argument over at HTMLGIANT—and once again the comments exploded (which, I suppose, isn’t so astounding at HTML…). Here’s a nicely-worded bit from an early comment from Justin Taylor:
…which, incidentally, brings me to the spot where I break with Genoways. The call for an issues-based literature smacks of the self-pride (and self-interest) of a guy who just published a North Africa issue of his magazine. Basically, it seems that his magazine already IS the change he wants to see in the world–and hey, bully for him! But I guess you’re not allowed to turn your Mother Jones op-ed into a full-page advertorial for yourself, so he’s counting on the readership to connect the dots on its own. Incidentally, Charles Antin, whose short story “The Iraq Show” was published in VQR Fall ‘08, may be dismayed to find out that no good fiction has yet emerged from the Iraq war.
For all its flaws, I think it’s an interesting piece of writing. Genoways touches on something terribly important, but never quite gets around to saying it, at least not in the way I’d like to see it said– if fiction wishes to speak to anyone other than itself, it needs to be where everyone else is….[T]he ragged-but-right charm of Shtetl life is no substitute for having the key to the city. It seems to me that Genoways, in his managing of the VQR, is attempting to foster a culture(s)-wide arena, he’s creating a space wherein journalism, graphic art, fiction, poetry, and other things are juxtaposed, afforded the opportunities and challenges of proximity, etc. There’s merit in that philosophy, and not just a little bit either.
Every Tuesday, Travis Kurowski presents Luna Digest, a selection of news from the world of literary magazines. Travis is the editor of Luna Park, a magazine founded on the idea that journals are as deserving of critical attention as other artistic works.