The Future of Literary Magazines

It's a pill to swallow, but check out Ted Genoways' article in Mother Jones, "The Death of Fiction?"--note the question mark--and gird your loins to ask the tough questions we need to ask about the future of literary writing. Genoways, editor of the Virginia Quaterly Review, offers up a tidy history lesson, tracing the rise (and current decline) of academic literary journals in the United States. He doesn't have much to say about the rise of lively publications--both online and in-print--that have little or nothing to do with academe but are doing much to keep the Internet an interesting place to read and enjoy fresh writing right now; but he does offer this stringent advice to anyone trying to find an audience in today's competitive literary market:

"Stop being so damned dainty and polite. Treat writing like your lifeblood instead of your livelihood. And for Christ's sake, write something we might want to read."

To read the full article, click here. And check back with the Octopus later this week, when I'll be punchy about literary survival, the rise of Young Adult fiction, and what we can ALL learn from ANY kind of writing that runs red instead of yellow.--MD


Suzan Harden said…
Great article! I have to agree with Mr. Genoway. To all literary writers, please write something that doesn't involve male middle-age ennui, the sexual abuse of a child or the death of an animal.

I think the last literary work I finished was Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book back in 2008.

Any other suggestions, BtO Ladies?
I could not agree with this more. Of course, my book is about the abuse of a child (sort of), but the abuse isn't sexual and it's very different. But I think it's not so much even the subject matter as it is the way the subject matter is treated. If you're going to write about something so harrowing as the abuse of a child, then write it fearlessly. Write it boldly. Don't try to dress it up and sanitize it.

So much of what I read when I read literary magazines just seems like the same old stories trumped up again. Where's the breath? The life?
I don't know if he's "literary," but I really enjoy Ian McEwan. Atonement was a great read.
Mylène said…
I like Ian McEwan too. Other literary writers that pack meat on their bones: Jose Saramago, J.M. Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer, Margaret Atwood, Philip Roth, Kazuo Ishiguro--other than Roth, none of these are American. Something Genoways suggests but doesn't say outright: it's much American writing that is suffering from navel-gazing.
This comment has been removed by the author.
YES. And I think that's BECAUSE of the writing programs, sadly. The thing is that I've seen both drama and poetry go this way--and had a heated conversation about this in 1997 with Edward Albee (he won, of course). In most cw programs, it's not enough to tell a good story (and sometimes you're even penalized for it). You have to "push the boundaries of the form" and "stretch the limits of narrative." That is all great, but when everything becomes an exercise to see how far we can push conventions, then we get further and further removed from what readers naturally expect of storytellers.

You should have seen the look on one of my professor's face when I said "but I just want to tell a good STORY." I might as well have grown three heads.

A good story, well told. To me that's what it's about. But don't even whisper that in creative writing programs!
Joni Rodgers said…
Seconding pull quote.
Mylène said…
Kathryn, I have received no greater compliment in my life than the day a critic wrote of me: "She is a natural-born storyteller." Now, I had to laugh at the "natural" part (knowing all the hard work that went into the appearance of naturalness), but to this day I want to be known, like you, and above all, as a storyteller. A direct descendant of the ancient bards. Pushing the boundaries of narrative discourse? Not so much.

Mine was a straight English PhD program rather than a creative writing program. I loved it, but I never breathed a word, the whole four years, and certainly not in any theory class, that I was going to use everything I learned there to write novels. Tee hee.

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