Literary MagNet

Kevin Larimer
From the May/June 2009 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

Ever heard of the KEO satellite? It's the brainchild of French artist-scientist Jean-Marc Philippe, who in 1994 proposed a time capsule that would be launched into space carrying messages from everyday people on earth, orbit the planet for fifty thousand years, then reenter the planet's atmosphere to be discovered by a future civilization (if it exists). Its initial launch date was back in 2001, but various delays have pushed it to 2010 or 2011. Visit and submit a message of up to six thousand characters, or around eleven hundred words, by the end of the year. Keep in mind that none of the text will be edited, which raises the question of just how beneficial these messages will be to our descendants (or whatever life-form succeeds us). Then again, an enterprising lit mag editor could, with the permission of contributors, submit valuable portions of an issue—or, hell, the whole thing—in a series of KEO installments. Think of it as a celestial archive. Better yet, maybe a wealthy literature-loving donor out there (John Barr, get out your Rolodex) could simply finance a special satellite filled with literary magazines. Consider what earthlings in 52009 could learn about us from a complete set of, say, Witness, the annual journal published by the Black Mountain Institute in Las Vegas that highlights "the role of the modern writer as witness to his or her times." From the current issue alone ("Dismissing Africa") they'd have a good starting point from which to understand the current political and economic situation of that continent from the perspective of writers. Or think what our faraway offspring could learn about American literature in the second half of the twentieth century if they perused the Massachusetts Review, the quarterly journal marking its fiftieth anniversary this year. A look back at its debut issue would uncover a series titled "New Poets of New England" that featured work by eight mostly forgotten young poets, only two of whom are familiar to readers nowadays: Pulitzer Prize winner Maxine Kumin, who was thirty-four in 1959, and the late Jean Pedrick, who fourteen years later would help found Alice James Books. And what sort of enlightened perspective might the planet's progeny form after processing the seventy-two issues of Calyx, the thirty-three-year-old journal of women's writing based in Corvallis, Oregon? The biannual was the first—or one of the first, anyway—to publish the work of Julia Alvarez, Chitra Divakaruni, Linda Hogan, Molly Gloss, Natalie Goldberg, Barbara Kingsolver, and Sharon Olds. And finally, consider what a journal like River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative would reveal about the editors who during the past decade have gone through positively yogic contortions to present nonfiction in all its transmogrifying forms. The excellent, five-hundred-page-plus River Teeth Reader, a tenth-anniversary double issue published in March, is broken into four sections—essays, memoir, literary journalism, and craft and criticism—each of which contains examples of writing about things that are, well, true...more or less. On second thought, anyone who's still riding this ball of dirt fifty millennia hence may have a hard time understanding what all the (non)fiction fuss was about.

Last year at this time, readers no doubt sympathized with the plight of Oxford American, the quarterly magazine published at the University of Central Arkansas whose former operations manager, Renae Maxwell, was arrested for allegedly embezzling at least thirty thousand dollars from the magazine. In a recent interview with the Associated Press, publisher Warwick Sabin put the damage at more like two hundred thousand dollars, including payroll taxes that were due to the Internal Revenue Service. Now for the happy...well, maybe not ending, but the next chapter: In February an anonymous donor gave a hundred thousand dollars to the esteemed journal, a gift that will more than cover the tax man's bill.

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