A scary number of years ago, I worked on a literary magazine in New York City. Turnstile was a labor of love, a nonprofit corporation with a volunteer staff. Nine of us, seven of whom worked together for the same book publishing company during our weekdays, met on Tuesday evenings and weekends to hammer out the details of editorial vision, selection process, type faces and lamination, 501 (c) 3 status, and who’d take care of bookstore and library sales. We were lucky and idealistic and focused. We put out nine issues in six years, obtained grants, and published work by excellent writers, many of whom had never been published, a few of whom went on to become well known. I pick up an issue now, and I feel pride and a kind of longing for those days of pizza and cheap beer and galley proofs, of arriving at our rented mailbox (“Suite 2348”) every week to pry out the manila envelopes of story submissions, 99 percent of which we sent right back. I pick up the issues now with pleasure and amazement. We published good work.
Over the years, people moved on. New jobs. Marriages. Divorce. Babies. Grad school. We got tired of staying up late to key in manuscripts and impatient with the new editors who joined merely to eat cheap pizza; sure, they brought along a six-pack, but it seemed the extent of their contribution. Turnstile came to end. Happily, before the quality diminished.
Recently, one of us posted to Facebook that our inaugural issue, Winter 1988, with the startling black-and-white cover photo (especially nice in that glossy film lam), went on sale for $240 (original price $6.50). Several of us chimed in jokes. Who knew? All those back issues a nest egg!
When I first moved to New York, my first landlady told me that “everyone here has a day job, and then they have what they really do.” The waitress who writes. The waiter who acts. The legal proofreader who sings jazz or opera. The of-counsel attorney who spends weekends studying koine Greek. The printing salesman-cum-woodworker. Etc. Seven of us, for six years, put out a magazine. No, every day was not joyous in 1988, nor was every issue put out in a haze of constant camaraderie. But we did it.
That makes me happy.
Fast forward to 2013. February 20, to be exact – just the other evening. A corner bar in downtown Hayward, site of a lively release party for Arroyo Literary Review. Standing room only, with fresh-faced editors and eager grad students. Five of us read, and it was a wonderful evening. I thought of Turnstile, and in a way that I hope doesn’t sound patronizing (though I can’t help but notice that I am now old enough to be the mother of the Arroyo editors), I felt a torch had been passed.
The folks at Arroyo are doing things right – T-shirts and gift bags, launch parties and funding from matching grants. And what really made the evening, and the issue: the writers sharing the pages, some of whom got on stage to read. Okay, yes, I was there – but so were others, and that’s what matters. I was wowed by Lucy Lang Day’s observations on Fra Angelico and miniskirts (not together), by Daniel Langton’s moving poem on aging and the green of trees, by Michael Larkin’s skillful move from the humor of purchasing condoms to a parent’s fierce love, by Ethel Rohan’s piercingly sharp short fiction.
That makes me happy, too.
So, please: Read literary magazines. Buy them. Support them. Submit to them. A complete list for writers can be found at newpages.com. Stalk your local newsstand (if you have one), bookstore, garage sale. Subscribe. Chime in here to tell us about your favorites.
And find that thing, if you haven’t already, that you “really” do.