Hayden's Ferry Review


Literary Magazines

I’ve been interested in the history of the literary magazine, and so I’ve been combing bibliographies for sources. To get a comprehensive overview, I’ve had to go back to 1978’s The Literary Magazine in America where I find this sentence:

“Little magazines have always functioned primarily for writers. Readers are desirable, sometimes even actively sought out, but the impulse behind most magazines is the writer-editor’s conviction that there are writers who are not being served by existing publications.”

This has been on my mind now for two days, because I think it is in a large sense how literary magazines still operate. That any given literary magazine exists at all pleases me. But do they need to remain little to accomplish their mission? Most enterprises grow over time, but the subscriptions for any lit mag top out at the thousands (And that is for the more well known magazines). It would seem to further the cause of writing, it would be a primary purpose of literature magazines to seek out, even ‘actively’ more readers.

It would seem like if A writes a story published by B and B writes a story published by C and C writes a story published by A that not a whole lot is being done for writing in America. Of course, the big publishers might eventually swoop in if a story gets accolades. But is that the only way to the reading public at large? It would seem if the audience for literary magazines were bigger, more could be accomplished for literature and writing.

I know, I know. I’m going to hear a chorus of cries of “Budget!” but money is not the only way to get readers… And I am really eager to know everyone’s thoughts on the subject.