why literary journals?

One of my writing peers in my MFA program once said in workshop, “I try to read those literary journals but I just can’t get into them. Why would I subscribe to one of them? I mean, I know I want to get published in them, but why would I subscribe?”

Ahem. It was a very honest statement on her part, altogether too revealing of the plight of literary journals. I was horrified to hear what she said, and as an avid reader and subscriber of literary journals I raised my hand to respond. But our professor beat us to the punch.

Our professor went onto say that as writers we really should subscribe to and support literary journals. They do a great service to the writing community–they discover new writers, for one. And how would they survive to do such things without our support? They run on a shoestring budget and should be rewarded for their altruism with plenty of subscriptions (which sadly isn’t true–so many writers who are published in these journals probably don’t subscribe, either).

So as writers, do you subscribe to a literary journal? I urge you to subscribe to at least one. It helps you to keep your pulse on new writing, helps YOU to discover new writers, and gives you access to short stories by some great established writers (I mean, there is just some good reading in these journals!). Also, you would be contributing to a healthy publishing/writing ecosystem (do you REALLY want a future where only Big Publishing Houses exist?).

I also thought I’d list my favorite literary journals, in the vein of Susan’s post on her favorites. If you want to start reading them, maybe this will be a springboard:

  • ZYZZYVA. Irreverent and risk-taking work, I think. Editor Howard Junker (who has a blog calledZYZZYVA Speaks) reads every submission. They respond QUICKLY to submissions!
  • A Public Space. Former editor of the Paris Review, Bridgid Hughes’ new magazine. The first issue was sparkling and great. The second issue is now out and pretty interesting too (though it’s clear she put more energy and starpower into the first). They take online submissions!
  • AGNI. Boston University’s literary mag.
  • Tin House
  • Zoetrope: All-Story. I hear their editor is wonderful and attentive.
  • The Paris Review. The Grandaddy of them all.
  • One Story. You get one story every three weeks, a wholly different model than the other literary journals. I kind of like this model. The magazine itself is very threadbare and looks like a high school student produced it on her own, but the stories are good. They accept online submissions.

Anyone else got recommendations? I would also recommend Glimmertrain, even though I don’t subscribe to them. I rather like the little author profiles at the back (pictures for each author with anecdotes. Kinda cool). I also used to subscribe to the Bellevue Literary Review, but I can only read so much of medical literature (my own limitations, not the magazine’s). I also got the vibe that a lot of the pieces are written BY doctors, and wanted more diversity.



Filed under Reading, Writing

4 responses to “why literary journals?

  1. Our writing group, Word Pirates, discovered some cool lit journals when we were looking for editors for our series of interviews with lit journal editors. I discovered Barrelhouse, Monkeybicycle and FRiGG in the process. Check ’em out. (And, ahem shameless plug, read the interviews with editors of lit journals we’ve posted so far at wordpirates.org)

  2. thank you for urging writers to subscribe. and thanks especially for liking ZYZZYVA (and putting it in all caps italic).

    personally, i don’t think i’m “irreverent.” i hold new & emerging writers in the greatest possible reverence, even when i am so cruel as to not offer to publish their work. even when they don’t subscribe.

    the writers i don’t hold in much reverence are the established ones, esp. the so-called creative writing teachers who write such uninteresting stuff, the stuff that stuffs most litmags.

  3. Hi Howard
    Thank you for stopping by–I have to say I meant “irreverent” in the same sense. The writing (I was describing the writing not you as “irreverent’) in ZYZZYVA thumbs its nose at the conventional and the “neat,” and reaches for something different and fresh, just as you say.

  4. I usually subscribe to 2 or 3 lit journals every year–different ones, although I do repeat subscriptions for those that I really liked. Currently, Tin House, the Missouri Review, and another one I can’t remember. Also, I’m a teacher, so I get free journals at the university–one of the benefits which I love.

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