Reviewed by Nick Sweeney -

Paper Dreams: Writers and Editors on the American Literary Magazine - compiled and edited by Travis Kurowski


           Atticus Books - forthcoming August 2013
           ISBN 978-0-9840405-7-5


The history of the American literary magazine will not only interest upper level English students, but all those yearning for a deeper understanding of the American Dream. Travis Kurowski collects historical and contemporary pieces of the literary conversation, from Ezra Pound to T.C. Boyle, and puts a definitive stamp on what exactly the American literary magazine is and where it will go.

The book opens with an introduction entitled "Reasons for Creating a New Literary Magazine" by Jill Allyn Rosser. It immediately brings a strong commencement speech aura to mind, a sudden inspiration to the masses of young editors who want to start their own magazine, regardless of the obstacles they must overcome. The book discusses the first magazines, the hardships The Little Review encountered after it published James Joyce's Ulysses, and the rise and fall of readership over the Twentieth Century.

Gone are the days of the Saturday Evening Post and the publishing of six or seven short stories or a short novel in one issue. Other magazines such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Harper's also published multiple stories each issue. Jay Neugeboren's chapter on Story says it best: "To list the writers Story discovered, then, and to know the history of Story in the thirties, is to remind ourselves of how different times were for the short story in America." It was a time when an editor could still hope that a magazine "devoted solely to the short story could join high culture to a wide audience." This is the most crucial element of the advancement of the literary magazine. It is beyond description how important this piece of literary history is, as it shows the greater problem in literary fiction as a whole: the importance on the reading masses. With that in mind, every time doom is potentially imminent for a young writer and editor's dream, Kurowski reminds us of one very important piece of advice: although readers, like money, determine the life of any given magazine, it is the writers who ultimately control it. With every story of a magazine falling into the grave of yesteryear, there is also one of a mysterious benefactor pulling funds for two more issues, or a university bringing an old magazine back from the grave. The American Dream in a nutshell.

In "The Future of the Magazine: A Roundtable on the Contemporary Literary Magazine," a written conversation moderated by the Mississippi Review with the help of several editors of literary magazines, we read of the obstacles that editors must overcome, the influx of writers, the changing vision of what a literary review must stand for, the always constant "money situation," and much more. For the young reader, it is an excellent insight to the other side of the process after their story has been accepted or rejected, a process that is openly mocked by scorned writers yet rarely seen by most of those who do not aspire to edit. As the chapter concludes, an article, "Some Comments on the 2008 Mississippi Review Roundtable on the Literary Magazine," by Herbert Leibowitz, is provided. It's moments like this that we are reminded that this book is centered on the conversation.

The literary magazine has endured a century of change: from the need to advertise and have serious financial backing to succeed, to the conflict of defining serious fiction, to the ironies of publishing in print versus online. But it has endured. The progression shows that the conversation isn't over yet. Travis Kurowski's work succeeds in bringing the past, the present, and the future of the literary magazine together in such a manner in which readers and writers alike will remember the purpose of all of this in the first place.