Introducing the Teachable Lit Mag

Alex Dimitrov
From the November/December 2010 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

The Council of LiteraryMagazines and Presses (CLMP) is helping to nurture a new generation of literary magazine readers with its new Lit Mag Adoption Program, the pilot phase of which was launched last spring. The initiative is designed to introduce journals into creative writing course curricula and engage student writers as readers and members of a national literary community.

Former CLMP membership director Jay Baron Nicorvo began developing the idea of subscription “adoptions” in 2007 when he was teaching an undergraduate workshop at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, and convinced Don Lee—then editor of Ploughshares—to offer a subscription discount to his class. “My students in the fiction workshops were beginning to submit their work to magazines,” Nicorvo says, “and I wanted to impart to them that they needed to subscribe to at least one lit mag if they were going to submit.” So he brought the idea to CLMP, and programs director Jamie Schwartz put the plan into action.

Now undergraduate and graduate creative writing teachers across the country can register their classes on CLMP’s Web site and select a literary magazine from a list of more than thirty participating publications, including American Poetry Review, One Story, the Oxford American, Prairie Schooner, A Public Space, Salmagundi, and Tin House. Students can then use a special code on the CLMP site to purchase a discounted one-year subscription to the chosen publication (CLMP promises that at least two issues will arrive during a semester). “So far we have had an overwhelming response, with new classes being added every day,” says Jeffrey Lependorf, executive director of CLMP. “About sixty professors have already participated in the program, many with multiple classes, and many including more than one magazine for each class. Because of the involvement of the publishers and editors, we believe that the Lit Mag Adoption Program allows students to feel a genuine connection to each of the magazines they subscribe to.”

In addition to receiving magazines for required reading, each class has the opportunity to interact with its adopted magazine’s publisher or editor through a virtual discussion session or in-person meeting. Tin House editor Rob Spillman finds this element of the program a meaningful way both to reach out to young readers and to receive informed feedback. “I’ve really enjoyed the one-on-one sessions,” says Spillman. “I’ve done them via Skype, so I have been able to be in classrooms in Iowa and New Mexico while talking from my Brooklyn office. Since the students, along with the teacher, have read the magazine closely, their questions are sharp.”

Through its encouragement of close study, the adoption program could also have the potential to create an interest in the journal as a barometer of tastes in contemporary literature, measuring the concerns of today’s writers and forecasting movements. “We would hope very much to introduce young writers to the world of little magazines, the place where most contemporary writers they read in their literature courses got their start and where many are still publishing,” says Peg Boyers, editor of Salmagundi.

With hundreds of creative writing programs in existence today, CLMP’s initiative has the potential to foster a sizable community of new magazine readers with more than a passing interest in literary journals. After all, says Nicorvo, “It’s through subscription renewals that lit mags bring in revenue, not through onetime subscriptions.” Teachers and students can find out more at                      

Alex Dimitrov is the founder of Wilde Boys, a queer poetry salon in New York City. He is also coordinator of the Poets Forum and awards at the Academy of American Poets.