About the Cover
Our cover design by Nanette
Black features Incense Holders, Doryu Temple, Shikoku, 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 does the future hold for literary magazines?
This is a larger, more pressing question than it may seem at first
blush, reaching beyond the fate of a particular journal. For it
is closely entwined with the future of the literary arts in general.
It resonates, for example, with recent studies that suggest a dramatic
falling off in the number of people who read for pleasure. (Haven’t
we all suspected this?—it’s just that the trend seems
sharper, with so many distractions, so many diversions, so many
demands on the little leisure time people once had. None but the
direst of Cassandras prophesied.) In any event, the question has
occupied me much of late, yielding a fair bit of stimulating conversation
with friends and colleagues around the country. There are really
two separate issues: in what forms will such magazines present themselves
and, perhaps even more challenging, who will be their readers, their
audiences? I will share some thoughts on the former here and save
the latter for our next issue.
The physical and organizational issues are also rather more straightforward.
Today, something like six hundred literary magazines are published
in the U.S. In a long, noble tradition, many are published by hand
out of garages, or at least out of the neighborhood Kinko’s.
Their life spans may extend an issue or two, a year or two. Others
are regional or national, dependent on institutional support or
the largesse of individuals or endowments or their readers in general.
An ongoing “churn” is inevitable and quite natural,
with some great names disappearing, such as, in recent years, Grand
Street, Ohio Review, and Antaeus. Occasionally
they are resuscitated, as was The Kenyon Review after its
slumber through the ’70s. Some venerable journals—take
Virginia Quarterly Review—gain startling energy and
fresh direction from a new editor. And others appear, with strength
and considerable vigor. Tin House, Fence, and
McSweeney’s come to mind.
It won’t surprise you that the most dramatic area of creative
evolution in recent years has been electronic. Many, perhaps most,
of the printed magazines now produce Web sites as well. Some are
fairly static, offering little more than basic information about
subscriptions and submissions. But quite a few of these Web sites
are well stocked and increasingly interactive. They offer much that
simply isn’t available in the print versions, from author
interviews or oral/visual performances, to archival resources.
Of course, the Internet is now home to many exciting electronic
publications (I’m not sure whether publication is an entirely
appropriate sobriquet, but let it be) that have no print version.
How many people have their Web browser open to Poetry Daily? I wonder
but am certain the number is in the thousands. New Virginia
Review, a fine magazine, went quietly asleep, replaced by Blackbird,
a most interesting Web presence. Aside from the potential of a worldwide
audience, electronic publishing offers many immediate benefits.
No printers’ fees. No distributors to wrestle first for attention
and then for payment. No bookstore managers pleading limited shelf
The single greatest obstacle, however, for all literary endeavors
on the World Wide Web is the simple fact that most of us don’t
enjoy reading literature on a computer screen. A short poem, perhaps.
But lengthier essays or stories? Not yet.
And yet—I have not a single doubt that sometime, sometime
fairly soon, that barrier too will disappear. A handheld screen
of some sort will surely be developed that, for all but purists,
will be as easily, comfortably, self-effacingly read as a book or
magazine. Turning down a page corner may be a challenge, but not
Will these new electronic journals, with their limitless space and
creative potential, come to replace entirely our antediluvian page-bound
versions? Not to my mind. At least no time soon. The six hundred
may dwindle or migrate to the new medium. But that simply means
expanding our definitions. The Council of Literary Magazines and
Presses, a venerable advocate, has expanded to include ever more
members whose presence is solely on the Web.
No, the far greater challenge to literary magazines—and to
literature—is that the audience may be as endangered as any
spotted owl. Fewer people reading for pleasure is only part of the
issue. I don’t believe, for example, that we have spent enough
effort in learning about who our current audience is or how we’re
going to keep it—you—reading. But is there a larger
potential audience out there, readers in their hundreds of thousands
or more who do still care, and passionately, about the written word
and yet are being written off by commercial publishing? What might
the noncommercial literary magazine offer them?
This will involve both self-reflection and reaching out. It will
mean reevaluating our mission, whom and what we publish, and whom
we publish for. In KR’s next issue I will tackle
these questions as best I can—and probably pose some more.
—David H. Lynn