20 Reasons Why You Should Read Literary Magazines

October 12, 2016 | 4 3 min read


1. The writers you will love tomorrow are being published there today.

2. Some reach old age, like The Sewanee Review and Poetry. Others, like Ralph Waldo Emerson’s original iteration of The Dial, shine but burn out quickly. Some, like Story magazine, have been resurrected.

3. They have great names: Prairie Schooner, River Teeth, Barrelhouse, Hobart, Tin House, ZYZZYVA, River Styx, Pleiades, Alligator Juniper.

4. They are fascinating and inspiring artifacts of literary history. Modernism thrived in these little magazines. Granta’s editor Bill Buford catalogued American dirty realism. Find an issue of the Iowa Review or Ploughshares and you can have a good idea of that moment’s literary pulse.

5. Editors are generous people. They love words, and they love to find new writers, names that haven’t made it to bookstores. Writers with dreams.

6. Writing is often an individual, distant activity. Literary magazines are a community of contents. Writers scattered across states and countries who share the same space.

7. Eric Staley notes that the word magazine “derives from the Arabic-to-French word magasin, meaning store-house.” Literary magazines are little homes for words. They are regular anthologies, bound by theme, taste, or timing.

8. They are perfect for teaching. Give students an issue of The Kenyon Review or New England Review to discover new writers. Find a back issue of Image and compare it to the newest edition. Ask students to detect themes within an unthemed issue. Rather than ask students to interview writers in literary magazines, have them send notes of appreciation.

9. Don DeLillo once published a story titled “Spaghetti and Meatballs” in Epoch, Cornell’s literary magazine.

10. Literary magazines exist on the periphery of the literary world, and as such, are free to publish work that captures that periphery. Writers and ideas from the margins.

11. Often the same writers swallow the oxygen of each book publishing season. Look to literary magazines for writers who slip between the mainstream cracks.

12. Literary magazines are where the Pushcart Prize was born. Where the Best American series gathers its goods. The words we praise often come from these little pages.

13. They are little books but you don’t need to read them like books. Scan the table of contents. Jump around. Set the magazine aside on a bookshelf, one page corner bent back, a napkin folded between the pages of a long poem.

14. Literary magazines are a slow world. The world of larger magazines is swift — and while there are clear benefits to swiftness, there’s something to be said for waiting. To learning that literature has rarely been instantaneous.

15. They help sustain the shorter forms. Hortense Calisher once said that short stories are looked on as the chamber music of literature. Andre Dubus, interviewed in an issue of Black Warrior Review, said Calisher was using money as a gauge: “I find good short stories all the time. I subscribe to a half dozen quarterlies.” He spoke of reading an issue of Southwest Review and finding a beautiful story by Nancy Huddleston Parker and writing her a fan letter.

16. Dubus wrote that letter because writers at all levels in their career read literary magazines. And if those writers remember where they came from — if they remember the anxiety and nervousness of putting a story in an envelope and the silent months that followed — they will remember that writing is often long, silent, and unknown work.

17. Many literary magazines are born and bred in colleges, where young writers deserve attention, support, and a glimpse into the world beyond their campus. Susquehanna University taught me to love literary magazines. When our literary magazine, The Susquehanna Review, went national, we made the trek each day to the campus post office, where soon submissions arrived from Missouri and Israel and down the road in Snyder County. What a lesson: the literary world was wide, but there we were, reading and talking about new writing, and making our small but necessary contribution to that world.

18. Literary magazines were good enough for Flannery O’Connor, Thomas Pynchon, Zora Neale Hurston, T.S. Eliot, Langston Hughes, W. H. Auden, Robert Lowell, Walker Percy, Octavia Butler, Marianne Moore, James Joyce, Toni Cade Bambara, Cormac McCarthy, Sylvia Plath, Amy Tan, Katherine Anne Porter, Wallace Stevens, Audre Lorde, James Alan McPherson, and Dylan Thomas.

19. They continue to be good enough. Stephen King’s fiction appears in recent issues of Tin House and the Virginia Quarterly Review.

20. Literary magazines are where writers publish the work of their hearts and souls — the work they refuse to compromise. This is as true now as it was back in 1836, when Elizabeth Palmer Peabody wrote “I am perfectly willing to take the trouble of writing for money to pay the seamstress; but I am not willing to have what I write mutilated, or what I ought to say dictated to suit the public taste.” Literary magazines are worth our time for the gifts they offer.

is a contributing editor for The Millions. He is the culture editor for Image Journal, and a contributor to the Catholic Herald (UK). He has written for Rolling Stone, GQ, The Paris Review, The Atlantic, Esquire, and the Kenyon Review. He is the author of Longing for an Absent God and Wild Belief. Follow him at @nickripatrazone and find more of his writing at nickripatrazone.com.