Though I must own well over twenty thousands books, I’ve not until a decade ago collected anything to the extent of trying to possess everything within a certain category. Most of the books owned by me were obtained for a particular project–sometimes a work currently in progress, other times a project that I did in the past but about which I nonetheless maintain an active interest, and more often for one that I am planning to do in the future.
As my first national publication was in a literary quarterly that did not pay its authors, I’ve continue to contribute to such eleemosynary journals, thinking that the abundance, the independence, and possible quality of them is a true index of cultural opportunity in America and thus that my continuing contributions are necessary. (Not all their alumni are so nostalgic, needless to say.) While my library includes shelf upon shelf of such cultural journals, what I think is more significant is the collection I’ve made of the books in which such magazines select the best work to appear in their pages–what I call self-retrospectives. Though such books customarily appear in modest editions designed initially for the magazines’ loyal subscribers or as special issues celebrating decade(s)-long anniversaries, they ideally give its editors an opportunity to show, better than a single issue, how they want to be regarded by posterity.
Two things I like about cultural journals’ self-retrospectives as a subject for collecting are that no one else known to me is concentrating on them and that the number of them can’t be too enormous. I own perhaps two hundred fifty. One problem is that the category is so unfamiliar I customarily must explain it at least twice, even to a bookseller eager to unload his inventory. Incidentally, many literate people aren’t aware of these books, some either doubting their existence. The category of cultural magazines necessarily excludes commercial magazines.
Some of these retrospectives appear as a magazine is dying and perhaps dies once the retrospective appears, such as Between C and D (1988) and Edmund Carpenter and Marshall McLuhan’s Explorations in Communication (1960). My collection includes retrospective volumes from art magazines, such as Flash Art and Artforum, and music magazines such as Perspectives of New Music and High Fidelity. I have selections from political magazines, such as the socialist Voices of Dissent (1958), the pacifist Seeds of Liberation (1964), and the conservative Modern Age: The First Thirty-Five Years, a Selection (1988). Some magazines publish so little in their lifetimes that publishers are able to produce retrospective books containing everything appearing in their pages, such as New Individualist Review (1981) or Monk’s Pond: Thomas Merton’s Little Magazine (1989).
Since certain magazines have survived long enough to issue more than one retrospective, it is not surprising that I have several from Partisan Review, four from Saturday Review, two from Harper’s, two from the Nation, two from Antioch Review, three from The New Republic. I suppose that a sensitive scholar of cultural journals could do interesting critical analyses of how a single magazine’s self-retrospective in the 1990s differs from that done in the 1950s, say, and how such differences reflect the changing ambitions of its editors. Continue reading Literary Magazines’ Self-Retrospectives→
The idea sprouted when I was about to leave New York. I’d been living with my high school friend and fellow writer Olivia in Brooklyn, finishing my MFA and pretty much living a writer’s dream. We both loved the most writerly city on earth. We loved the plays and poetry readings, the artisanal doughnuts and dark bars crammed with storytellers. Over the few years of our roommate-ship, we’d played with the idea of founding a literary magazine. We had always wanted to shape the vision of a journal of our own. But then I was due to move back to my hometown of Boston. How could we possibly maintain and fund a new journal when spread across the East Coast? Was it possible, in today’s wired world, to make a journal with a cohesive vision, when its co-editors would only meet in person a handful of times a year?
We decided that not only was it possible; it would be what made us unique.
Two Cities’ title and entire governing vision sprang from the familiarity both of us had with multiple cities. So many of us out there were leading multi-city experiences, we realized. Here on the East Coast, all our writer friends were in the same boat, shuttling back and forth up that Northeast corridor in Bolt Buses or terrifying Chinatown buses or throwing out an occasional arm and a leg for the train. We knew the commute; so much of our lives had been defined by that long journey. We’d had long-distance relationships stretched across that coast; we’d gone to college in one city and then hurried back home for holidays. This was what modern life felt like for us: being stretched, walking tightropes between different regions of our lives.
Once we figured out that our biggest liability would make us who we were, we ran with the idea. We used the idea of “bridging gaps” as a guideline for the kinds of work we published. We looked for stories and poems that gave us the experience of urban life, but that also crossed genres, boundaries, or realities in new and exciting ways. In our first issue, we published a collaboration between an artist and a poet, a team who integrated their work together much like William Blake’s etchings. We published stories with surprise endings and poems that blended nature and the city, or high and low concerns. The unfamiliar juxtaposition was all.
Using the convenient tools of technology helped us bridge the gaps behind the scenes. Olivia and I schedule weekly Skype meetings; we collaborate and make notes to each other using Submittable; we email back and forth with thoughts. We used a Kickstarter campaign to launch our magazine, and then held parallel (but not simultaneous) launch parties in both New York and Boston. Having a two-pronged headquarters has opened up the accessibility of our magazine as well; with our double reach, we’ve received submissions from the old Brooklyn enclaves, but also have dug up Boston writers too. And we’re open to writing that comes from anywhere and is about pretty much anything. Having more than one center of operations gives submitters a little more openness and accessibility. The magazine is not just for that elite huddled group in New York; it’s open to city-dwellers (or rural writers, for that matter) everywhere.
As the publication continues to grow, the center of its focus continues to change as well. A job change had me moving to Chicago, another great literary city, but because of the way we’ve set up the magazine, we’re not rooted to one spot; it’s easy just to pack up the bandwagon and roll on. Our magazine reflects the strange rootlessness that today’s generation of writers feel; either that, or we experience a double- and triple-rootedness, a connection to a dozen new homes. Our magazine can address the double-identities that immigrants or bi-racial people feel, or it can speak to the weary life of the commuter. Life in our stories always seems to be happening when people are struggling to bridge the gap between their dreams and their realities, or between their present and their past, or their home and their journey outward and away.
Running a long-distance magazine can feel like a long-distance relationship. It’s important to establish rituals and routines, with our regular meetings, our established items on the agenda, and so on. But it’s also important to leave time for brainstorming and wool-gathering. That work is often done when we are out of touch with another, but when we re-connect, we pull out the notes and excitedly share what we’ve come up with. Like a relationship, we need time alone and time together. But it’s always with excitement that we re-connect across the miles and see what’s showed up in the inbox for the next issue.
Two Cities Review is an online review featuring quality fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.
Blair Hurley (Chicago Editor) is a writer and instructor of Creative Writing. She has a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from Princeton University and an M.F.A. in Fiction from NYU. She currently teaches creative writing at Loyola University.
Blair’s writing has been published or is forthcoming in Washington Square Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Blustem, Descant, Quality Women’s Fiction, The Best Young Writers and Artists in America, The Armchair Aesthete, The Red Rock Review, The Allegheny Review, and elsewhere. Blair is also the writer of the award-winning weblog Writerly Life.
I originally got the idea to start a literary magazine after getting a few years’ experience advising the yearbook at the high school where I teach. I was beginning to enjoy the process of layout, that feeling of receiving freshly printed books in those boxes (they should bottle the smell), and I felt like being in the driver’s seat for once instead of constantly hitchhiking, hoping an agent would pick up my manuscripts.
I’d been obsessed with Virginia Woolf for a while, having been exposed to her work for the first time at the New School while in the MFA program, and in particular I loved her essay, “Professions for Women,” in which she urges female writers to kill their angels–those “be nice” social pressures on women of the time that discourage honest expression. Back when I would routinely apply for every literary job I’d find online, I’d pitched a literary column to a startup magazine with the title Killing the Angel. I never heard back from the magazine, the title remained mine, and so it was decided.
I estimated that I’d be able to produce the first issue for around $2,000 and organized a Kickstarter campaign that was successfully completed by the end of 2011. Friends, families, fellow MFA-ers, co-workers, and a few anonymous strangers helped me the goal a reality.
Once I had the funding, I had to cultivate submissions. Flyers in coffeeshops and campuses, Craigslist ads, MFA newsletters, and social media helped spread the word. Using a Google form for submissions helped keep everything organized, and I sent paper contracts and checks to accepted writers. We pay writers $20 for each accepted piece and ask them to sign on First North American Serial Rights, which allows for the rights to revert back to the writer after publishing with us, allowing them to publish the same piece again elsewhere (we do ask them to acknowledge us if they do publish again, which they do).
I realize that $20 isn’t a lot, and I’d love to be able to pay more eventually. I can’t say strongly enough how important it is to pay writers, and artists in general, for their work. It’s one of the strongest values that I want KTA to embody. Let’s abolish “great for exposure” from our vocabulary as editors. Exposure alone is not compensation. I think art is often taken for granted, yet in many ways it is what gives meaning to our lives, whether it’s reading a great poem, watching a ballet, or viewing evocative paintings. These are things that we value and we should show it by compensating the artists.
One of my co-workers used to run a literary magazine, and I picked his brain a lot for different questions I had about everything from rights to printing specs. I actually modeled many of our specs off our high school’s literary magazine. For the first issue, I worked with a graphic designer on the cover and interior, and she generously gave me the templates so that I could do all of the art and layout myself for subsequent issues, which saves a lot of money! CLMP was helpful as well regarding questions I had about ISSNs.
I’ve been asked a lot if I’d ever move to an online model, and I always say no. It’s not that I dislike online magazines; rather, it’s more about what print journals can offer. I take pride in creating a beautiful product, and I enjoy the process of mailing them out, often internationally, and getting those emails from people in Australia, the UK, France, saying, “It arrived, and it is wonderful!”
Once the first issue arrived in its boxes, we were ready to distribute. I reached out to several bookstores, and three of them agreed to carry the journal, one of them being Shakespeare & Company in Paris, France. I also sold the issue online. For the first issue, I also got a lucky break with the company Indie Gift Box, who purchased 100 copies at a heavily discounted rate for their “Stories & Lyrics” themed box. This helped spread the word about the issue as well. Shakespeare & Company has continued to carry each of our issues, and it doesn’t get much cooler than that–what a fantastic bookstore. One of the bookstores that carried us eventually stopped stocking literary magazines, so we’re down to just two stores that carry us.
Once our first issue arrived, I planned a launch event at the KGB Bar in Manhattan, and it pretty much the most amazing night ever. Eight of the first issue contributors came and read, including one author from the DC area, and the venue was so packed that people had to stand in the hallway. I remember standing at the lectern, giving the opening speech, and seriously trying not to cry from all of the emotions I felt.
Since that first issue, a few things have changed. I hired a copy editor for the next issue, and I did the layout myself working in Word, as opposed to InDesign (which my graphic designer used for the first issue). Working off of the template, I also did the cover myself with some help from my tech-savvy husband (then-boyfriend–I know, a critical detail for this essay). By the third issue, I switched from offset to digital printing, a move that would ultimately save me hundreds of dollars on printing costs, and had learned enough about Photoshop to do the cover myself.
Another thing that’s fluctuated are our submissions. Depending on the needs of a particular issue, I might reach out and solicit submissions from specific people. There was one issue where I felt there was a dearth of short prose pieces, so I set up a flash fiction contest with prizes of cash and publication, and that helped flesh out the issue. Being listed on Duotrope, the Grinder, and The Review Review has also helped increase our number of submissions more recently.
At this point in the summer, I’ve accepted the work for our fourth issue, contracts have been signed, and writers have been paid. All that’s left is for me to format the issue, edit it, create the cover, and send it to the printers. A typical yearly cycle for Killing the Angel will have the annual issue released in the fall with some sort of accompanying event (in addition to the KGB Bar, we’ve held issue launches at Small World Coffee in Princeton, New Jersey and Hidden Grounds in New Brunswick, New Jersey). Submissions are open from fall to spring, and then in the spring we have our reading period. Acceptances and rejections go out around May. We put the issue together in the summer, and the cycle continues. It’s a very non-hurried way of doing things, and as someone who refreshes her inbox a lot, I do have moments when I think the cycles should move a little faster, but I also like the slow and steady pace of it all.
There have been surprises along the way. I’m always surprised at how many international submissions we get. Word gets around, even for print magazines. I’ve also met different writers and have become really invested in them. Each issue, for example, has multiple poems from one author that submitted to us the first year and we just fell in love with her work. One of my most staggering moments was Naomi Shihab Nye personally responding to a request for a writer interview. That was truly a moment to remember! Her thoughtful and insightful interview is featured in the second issue of Killing the Angel.
Depending on the crowd, the title of the magazine gets mixed reactions. I usually sum it up by saying something along the lines of, “It means losing your artistic inhibitions and writing honestly.” I remember opening an account for KTA at the bank and the look on the teller’s face when I told her what I wanted the account to be called. She looked somewhat horrified. When I explained Virginia Woolf’s metaphor to her, though, she said, “Oh, that’s cool!” So I think the title is a good conversation starter and instantly garners interest.
I think the magazine has also allowed me to continue on my own creative journey. For me, “killing the angel” is a concept that I believe in philosophically, but personally struggle with sometimes in reality. It’s been a wonderful learning experience to live out these principles and confront the incongruities between the abstract and the concrete, and to make sense of them, as both a person, an editor, and a writer. I continue to write and submit my own creative work to other publishers, though I haven’t yet published myself in Killing the Angel. Who knows? Maybe this will be the year. For as much responsibility and commitment as the magazine brings, it’s incredibly inspiring to have something to mold freely and change through time, and it’s extremely rewarding to be able to inspire readers and writers along the way.
Jessica Rosevear edits and publishes Killing the Angel, an annual literary journal inspired by Virginia Woolf. She is a graduate of the New School’s MFA program.