A decade ago media critic Eric Alterman observed in his Full-Court Press column for the Nation that a “quiet renaissance in independent literary magazines” was afoot despite the challenge to book culture brought on by the mounting distraction of the day, the Internet. What some had considered literature’s greatest rival was proving to be one of its readiest supporters, providing novel platforms, design possibilities, connection-building potential, and access to a wider range of audiences. By some counts, the number of literary magazines in production has doubled since Alterman’s observation. The vetted database maintained by Poets & Writers, Inc., which contains 775 titles and counting (of which only a few remain unhitched to the web), saw a 36 percent increase in titles just last year.
Web-driven, cutting-edge publishing technologies, increasingly accessible to would-be editors and readers, are, of course, partially responsible for any flourishing of the lit mag world. Digital Americana, launched by Tony Fasciano in 2010 and originally formatted only for the iPad, promotes itself as “the world’s first literary magazine made exclusively for tablets.” Publishing poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, Digital Americana also plans to move onto digital platforms for the Kindle and Android later this year. Last April the editors took advantage of another contemporary publishing development, print-on-demand technology, and began offering paper issues for a penny south of ten bucks apiece. Editors are currently accepting new work via the online submission management system Submittable (formerly known as Submishmash).
Another venture straddling the print-digital divide is Typecast Publishing, founded in 2008 by former Sarabande Books associate editor Jen Woods and her brother, Eric Woods. The press employs the best of new and old-school print technologies to produce a biannual letterpress poetry journal, the Lumberyard and a recently redesigned online magazine, Sawmill. Sawmill will begin accepting poetry submissions in May, and the reading period for winter-edition fiction begins on June 1. Submissions to the Lumberyard open this month; poets can keep tabs on calls for work by joining the magazine’s open group on Facebook.
Coeditors Mark Polanzak and Rachel Yoder of draft: a journal of process are also gearing up for a website relaunch that will expand the reach of their year-old project, which takes aspects of the writing workshop out of the academy (both are graduates of the University of Arizona’s MFA program in fiction) and places them in the journal’s pages. Each issue of draft features rough and final versions of stories presented side by side, providing additional context in the form of author interviews. While the journal isn’t yet accepting story-and-process submissions for print, the forthcoming website redesign will bring with it a literary “covers” feature—writers will be invited to submit revisions of excerpts from canonical fiction—as well as a blog, for which the journal is currently seeking submissions of narratives that concern rewriting, editing, teaching writing, and so on. Visit the website for guidelines and contact information.
Providing the bedrock for this broadly accessible village of new publications, some old standards are still going strong—across platforms. Established in 1912 by Harriet Monroe, Poetry celebrates its centennial this year. The magazine recently put its entire archive online and will feature some retrospective coverage in its pages, but readers shouldn’t expect to be overwhelmed with anniversary-related content. “Our goal is to mark the occasion with a few well-chosen pieces and portfolios,” reads the editors’ note in the January 2012 issue, “and to get on with our main business of discovery.” The magazine, which maintains the “open door” policy laid out in its first volume, “to print the best poetry written today, in whatever style, genre, or approach,” accepts submissions year-round via regular mail and its online submission manager.
Travis Kurowski is completing a book on the literary magazine, due out from Atticus Books in 2013. His website is traviskurowski.com.