Literary MagNet

Kevin Larimer

No matter how attentive the editor, how precise the proofreader, faithful the fact-checker, or diligent the designer, stuff—to use the PG-rated term—happens. Mistakes find their way into every publication, and for most publishers it's a point of pride (not to mention professional ethics) to admit past errors. So packed with lushly designed poetry, fiction, and essays is Ninth Letter, the biannual literary magazine published by the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, readers flipping through its two-hundred-plus pages could be excused for asking, "How would I even know if something in here was an error?" (Ninth Letter is jointly sponsored by the university's department of English and the School of Art and Design; sixteen designers are listed on the masthead.) A couple of mistakes, however, did come to light after the issue went to press. Most notably, Travis Kurowski's essay "Basquiat and Six Uses of Space," which was painted Basquiat-style on mounted panels and then photographed, was published with two pages of text missing. Instead of just offering the corrected essay on its Web site (which editor Jodee Stanley did as well), Kurowski's work was reprinted in its entirety as a chapbook—a chapbook that is, it's worth noting, much easier to carry around and read than a fat catalogue of a literary magazine—and mailed to subscribers in early March. With a corrections policy as generous as this one, more contributors may start hoping for slipups of their own.

It's not often that a magazine generates news that winds up on the local newspaper's police blotter, but Oxford American, the quarterly magazine published by the Oxford American Literary Project in conjunction with the University of Central Arkansas, did just that in late February. A former office manager, Renae Maxwell, stands accused of embezzling funds from the magazine. She was arrested by university police after publisher Ray Wittenberg discovered that she had issued company checks to herself by forging the name of another former employee. The damage? At least thirty thousand dollars. Maxwell was released on bail; as of this writing, she is awaiting trial and reportedly faces up to thirty years in jail. Relative to other crimes, of course, embezzling thirty thousand dollars isn't going to get John Walsh in front of the camera to declare Maxwell one of "America's most wanted," but for a small operation such as a literary magazine, it's not exactly petty larceny either. According to its Web site, Oxford American's editorial budget for 2007 averaged twenty-five thousand dollars per issue, which means Maxwell might as well have burned the entire print run—thirty-five thousand copies—of, say, the April issue, which, despite the plundering, was shipped to its nineteen thousand subscribers on time. (Interesting yet ultimately benign factoid: In the late nineteenth century, William Sydney Porter fled to Honduras after being accused of embezzling a few thousand dollars as a bank teller in Houston; when he returned to the United States a few years later, he was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison, prompting him to change his name to O. Henry; The O. Henry Prize Stories 2002, one in a series of annual anthologies started in 1919 to honor the short story master, contained the story "Anthropology" by Andrea Lee, which was originally published in Oxford American.)

In a recent editor's note, Walter Cummins of the Literary Review introduced a disclaimer of sorts that's clever enough to catch on with friendly editors everywhere. In the Winter 2008 issue, Cummins comments on the kind of author-editor relationship exemplified by the one between Raymond Carver and his editor Gordon Lish (Lish, with pencil in hand, made Carver's bloated stories bleed). After writing about the role an editor can play in helping a writer fulfill a work's potential—or in extinguishing its spirit—he concludes, "No writers were violated in the creation of this issue."

Kevin Larimer is the deputy editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.