The tenacity of the Little Magazine in the digital age

July 9, 2015
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From a recent piece in the New Yorker by Stephen Burt on the plight/flight of the little magazine in the digital age:

Ditto machines in the nineteen-sixties and seventies, offset printing and, in the past two decades, Web-based publishing have made it at least seem easier for each new generation. In 1980, the Pushcart Press—known for its annual Pushcart Prizes—published a seven-hundred-and-fifty-page brick of a book, “The Little Magazine in America,” of memoirs and interviews with editors of small journals. “The Little Magazine in Contemporary America,” a much more manageable collection of interviews and essays that was published in April, looks at the years since then, the years that included—so say the book’s editors, Ian Morris and Joanne Diaz— “the end of the ascendancy of print periodicals,” meaning that the best small litmags have moved online.

The Little Magazine in America does indeed chronicle the history and trajectory of the “little magazine” through the past half-century of American life, from its origins in universities, urban centers and rural fringes, and among self-identified peers. Featuring contributions from the editors of BOMB and n + 1  to L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E and the Women’s Review of Books, Morris and Diaz’s collection pays special attention to the fate of these idiosyncratic cultural touchstones in an age fueled by financial crises and the ascendency of digital technology and web-and-device-based reading.

As Burt’s piece concludes:

A new journal needs a reason to exist: a gap that earlier journals failed to fill, a new form of pleasure, a new kind of writing, an alliance with a new or under-chronicled social movement, a constellation of authors for whom the future demand for work exceeds present supply, a program that will actually change some small part of some literary readers’ tastes. None of this has changed with the rise of the Web. Nor has the other big truth about little magazines which emerges from Diaz and Morris’s book, or from a day spent with anybody who runs one: it’s exhausting, albeit exciting, to do it yourself.

To read more about The Little Magazine in Contemporary America, click here.

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