About the Cover
Our cover design by Nanette
Black features Mt. Takachiho, Lake Miike, Kyushu, Japan
(2002), a photograph by Michael Kenna. Kenna, who grew up in England
and now lives on the West Coast, is “a diurnal and nocturnal
photographer, fascinated by times of day when light is at its most
pliant.” More than twenty books and catalogs have been published
on Kenna’s work, including Michael Kenna: A Twenty-Year
Retrospective (Treville, 1994), Impossible to Forget
(Nazraeli Press, 2001), and Japan (Nazraeli Press,
2004). Represented by dozens of galleries across the globe, his
photographs are included in the permanent museum collections of
the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., the Patrimoine Photographique
in Paris, and London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, among others.
In 2001, Kenna was made a Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters
by the Ministry of Culture in France. His work can be viewed online
What are the sales of a moderately successful
first novel—five thousand perhaps? Even that may be generous.
The circulation of an established literary journal might stretch
to what—fifteen thousand? Even the venerable New Yorker,
flagship of American literary culture, reaches fewer than a million
readers. That’s a significant number, of course, yet fairly
modest when one considers the nation’s population will soon
reach three hundred million souls.
For much of the twentieth century an American middle class was growing
rapidly, accumulating reservoirs of money and leisure, and, just
as important, defining what it meant to be middle class.
The public acquisition of “culture” was widely seen
as the sine qua non of that pursuit, a badge of having
made it. Like watching fat ladies sing, belonging to the Book of
the Month Club, buying the Encyclopedia Britannica or the
Reader’s Digest were all part of an education to
that standard. Whether or not reading literature was truly seen
to matter for its own sake, those nicely bound books in the parlor
certainly counted for what they said about their owners.
In our own halcyon days, however, when literacy
is all but universal, when many millions have even greater wherewithal
and significant leisure, relatively few of our fellow citizens choose
fiction and poetry as their favorite means to while away free time,
to enrich their souls, to soothe them toward sleep in their beds.
The much larger and wealthier middle class of today takes its own
status for granted. Great Books, not to mention the good books—the
stories, poems, and essays that many of us care so passionately
about—no longer represent a golden key to cultural ascendancy.
For better or worse, they are but one source of entertainment in
our world, in no way privileged above video games or paint-ball
tournaments, any more than baseball remains the “nation’s
pastime” in any but a purist’s fantasy.
I’m not so sure that the fading of the shallow
and naïve social elitism implicit in those older notions is
entirely terrible. Nevertheless, I do believe with all my heart
that the arts, literature central among them, provide deep, enduring
nourishment to our lives. In turn, as readers, writers, editors
it is our responsibility to nourish them.
Quite obviously this is a time of enormous change
in the literary arts, not so much in the ways that stories, poems,
and essays are written as in how they are produced and distributed.
We struggle to decipher whatever tea leaves appear in the cup before
us, hoping to glimpse the changes in technology that will inevitably
affect everything from how ink hits paper to whether we will continue
with ink and paper at all, or turn to newer devices, more advanced
electronic books that will be as portable and as palatable as a
But what may be far more important is that the
literary community itself is changing profoundly. On the one hand,
more people are seriously engaged with writing today—much
of it exceptionally fine—than ever before in our history.
Indeed, this is an incredibly exciting period. The evidence appears
in the quickly multiplying M.F.A. programs and newer Ph.D. programs
in writing. It appears on bookstore shelves, in catalogs, and on-line,
despite all the dire forecasts of literature disappearing from the
public realm. Not to mention how it appears in the ever increasing
flood of unsolicited submissions that greet the staffs of literary
magazines every morning.
But writers are not the same as readers. That’s
the other hand. Yes, of course, writers do read. Yet surely every
poet, every storyteller hopes to reach beyond her or his peers and
colleagues and family friends to those who read for pleasure and
stimulation, yet have no particular ambition to take up the pen
themselves. It’s developing that larger audience, that significant
sliver out of three hundred million that should concern us.
In other words, those of us who edit and produce
literary journals or books, as well as the individual writer and
the concerned parent—and the already converted reader holding
this journal—must begin to think more creatively about nurturing
the readers we want to reach. No longer can we simply assume that
schools will produce legions of readers with each new commencement,
or that these potential new readers will remain passively eager
to receive whatever we may produce. Rather, we must be in the business
of educating, of proselytizing, of seducing the coming generations
into the faith that the act of reading, whether on paper or electronic
screens, as well as the engaging of the imagination and intellect
and passions that goes with it, is not something that can ever be
replaced by video or narcotized games.
Our responsibility is larger than ever—it
is to create a new generation of passionate readers for their own
sake. And for ours.
—David H. Lynn