Interview by Lyn Chamberlain
The Antioch Review, founded in 1941 by a small group of Antioch College faculty, is one of the oldest, continuously publishing literary magazines in America. As editor Robert S. Fogarty, John Dewey Professor Emeritus in the Humanities at Antioch College, said in his April 2009 editorial "the fact of [the magazine's] survival is no mean feat. Surviving several international wars, the shifting currents of both the ideological and literary marketplace, not to mention the fortunes of its founding patron, Antioch College, it has achieved a certain standing in the world."
For the second year running, the Antioch Review was named a finalist for the prestigious 45th Annual National Magazine Award, the smallest magazine selected in any award category.
We recently caught-up with Bob Fogarty and asked him about the current state of literary journals.
Why are you so concerned about the future of small magazines like The Antioch Review? 2010 has been a rough year for both the big commercial magazines and the "littles" with shrinking revenues, layoffs and martini-less lunches all around. Literary reviews took several severe hits from universities who acted like they were General Motors and preemptively closed production lines in order to shift to the new technologies. Tri-Quarterly's editors were told on a short notice that the magazine was going to be published online by students at Northwestern's School of Continuing Studies. That was its fate after 45 years of distinguished publication. In addition, the president of Middlebury informed the editors at the New England Review that they had a year to produce a deficit-less budget or face closure. At Washington & Lee an editor announced that Shenandoah would celebrate 60 years of publication and then become an online magazine. This was not Schumpeterian ("creative destruction") rhetoric, but the cold reality that has closed the gap between the Middlebury's and the University of Phoenix.
How is The Review faring in this climate? It is ironic, to say the least, that a new college in the making, the resurrected Antioch College, is today supporting the Antioch Review. We had a surprisingly good year and are making plans for a 70th year celebration in 2011-12. We have seen no slowdown in submissions and we think that the quality has held up despite the dearth of commercial outlets for the short story. Agents continue to say that it is difficult to place a story collection by a writer without a proven track record. There is also the current tendency to place a high value on "reportage" (exotic locale) rather than "writing," but a number of university presses have picked up the slack even in the face of a distinct preference by reviewers for titles from older commercial house. On a practical note the distribution question remains a vexing one. Recently a small distributor in Brooklyn announced they could no longer carry certain small literary magazines and offered to continue distribution if the publisher foregoes any profits.
How would you characterize the publishing environment today? Many writers and editors hope that literary magazines will carry writers through these difficult economic times by providing outlets. There is the usual hysteria about the "death of fiction" but we have seen little of that here as young, middle aged and older writers keep emerging, keep sharpening their pencils and trying to outwit and outfence their readers. It not like the heyday of the late sixties when George Hitchcock published Kayak, when Gordon Lish shepherded and drove Raymond Carver to reach beyond himself and the bottle to produce a new order of writing that was distinctive, driven by aesthetic concerns rather than merely commercial ones.
So you remain optimistic? It certainly is an imperfect golden age, but short stories (very good ones) are still being produced and there are, as Salman Rushdie noted, lots of terrific magazines that continue to nourish the hearts of readers and writers. I hope the reader finds gold rather than pyrite in the stories that we publish. We are honored to publish them and hope to bring the reader more work of this kind on the very tactile pages of The Antioch Review.