In August, we publish Paper Dreams: Writers and Editors on the American Literary Magazine, a collective history and conversations of the people who love new and interesting literature so much they spend their lives dedicated to sharing it with the world. But before we make history, it is only polite to introduce you to the literary magazines that most impress us — Atticus staff, authors, and associates.
Allow us the guilt-free pleasure of leading you to publications that have turned us into better writers and voracious readers and to hopefully, carry on the conversation.
But we can’t take the credit for starting the recommendations rolling. This time, writer, Luna Park (A blog on literary magazines) editor, and Paper Dreams contributor Marcelle Heath shares a literary magazine whose goal is to recommend great stories, authors, presses, and lit mags that may otherwise be hidden amid the infinite tangles of the Internet. Read about how she became introduced to the magazine and its co-editor Halimah Marcus.
Marcelle: I love the concept of Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, which features a story recommendation by editors and writers every week. The contributors have included recommendations by editors at Noon, Paris Review, Dzanc Books, Two Dollar Radio, Nouvella, and Electric Literature (EL’s recommendations are original, previously unpublished fiction). What I really love, though, is the chance encounter with an unexpected wonder, like Rob McCleary’s “Nixon in Space,” a story that was first published in the 90s zine CRANK! A rediscovered gem, unearthed from the annals of digital lore by Jonathan Lethem, now that just knocked me off my feet.
I had heard of Electric Literature as a print journal and had watched several of its delightful Single Sentence Animations, but did not have a subscription (another pleasure of reading the series is exposure to a journal or press you may not otherwise have access to). I decided to purchase the six volumes it published from 2009 to 20011 and when they arrived, I marveled at their beauty. The artwork, bold, smart, funny, reflected the journal’s exciting authors. But, it soon dawned on me, as I read over the list of 30 contributors, that only 9 were women. This fact just about knocked me off my feet. Oh no, I thought. Not another one. I wrote EL’s Co-Editor Halimah Marcus and we had a productive exchange of emails (at the time of our conversation, EL’s Recommended Reading had published 54 writers, of which 22 were female, and 32 male*). I know that I unconsciously make all sorts of sexist assumptions, including the horrifying fact that as I was writing Halimah about gender disparity, I had made the assumption that I was writing a man. Halimah has been generous to read and contribute a response to this blog post, which is below.
As I read about misogyny’s wide reach in the public sphere and daily lives of women and girls around the world and the distancing of the label “feminist” by, let’s be honest, feminists, I realize that wishing for an egalitarian literary landscape feels more than a bit like the moon watchers in McCleary’s brilliant story. They’re building rocket ships in their backyards, with nothing but microwaves and some tin. The effect of delving into EL’s Recommended Reading, however, feels just the opposite. Decidedly democratic, idiosyncratic, diverse. When I’m reading Rob McCleary and Ottessa Moshfegh and Norman Lock and Christine Schutt, it’s like I’m in the rocket ship, heading for the moon.
Even if stories have fallen out of print or never had a wide circulation to begin with, they exist to be rediscovered.
Halimah: One of the joys of publishing a weekly fiction series is the discovery of how much great writing is out there. When Electric Literature was publishing the quarterly (for which I was Managing Editor), I had this feeling that great writing was rare and difficult to find. Yes, it is rare—in that it’s unique and requires incredible talent and hard work—but it’s also abundant. This realization is made possible, in part, by our partnerships with other journals and small presses—there are many dedicated foot soldiers out there fighting the good fight. Even if stories have fallen out of print or never had a wide circulation to begin with, they exist to be rediscovered. Which is all to say that I am consistently reading great fiction by women—fiction I want to publish. For me, it’s less about the elusive 50/50 gender split, and more about training myself to be aware of the ways I prioritize the male voice. I grew up loving writers like Roth, Delillo, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Cheever, Yates—the list goes on and on. The same is true for many, and as such, we’ve come to expect, even prefer, a masculine gaze in our fiction. Recommended Reading is less about divvying up bylines (one for the boys, one for the girls), and more about opening ourselves as readers to diversity. So far, it’s been my experience that when I’m able to do that, things start to even out.
*Note: My count is based on how authors self-identify with pronoun usage
*Read more literary magazine recommendations here.
Marcelle Heath is Editor-at-Large for Luna Park Review. She is a contributing editor for Fictionaut and a fiction writer. Her stories have appeared in Wigleaf, PANK, Snake Nation Review, Necessary Fiction, Matchbook, and other journals. She works as a freelance editor and lives in Portland, Oregon.
Halimah Marcus is the co-editor of Electric Literature, an innovative digital publisher based out of Brooklyn, and its weekly fiction magazine, Recommended Reading. Electric Literature was the recipient of the National Book Foundation’s 2011 Innovations in Reading Prize and has been recognized by Best American Short Stories, the Pen/O’Henry Prize, and Best American Non-Required Reading.
Halimah’s work work has appeared in One Story, Philadelphia Noir, The Fiddleback, and The Fiction Desk. She has an MFA from Brooklyn College.
As an occasional reviewer on EL’s The Outlet blog, I’d like to point out that there is an approximate 50/50 parity on books reviewed, perhaps even slightly in favor of female authors. One more reason to follow The Outlet!