The Big Read Blog (Archive)

A New Generation of Literary Journals

Jac Mullen, The American Reader executive editor, reviewing submissions at the publication's Harlem-based offices. Photo by Alyssa Loh

Sure, the news about journalism and publishing have been all doom and gloom lately. It seems most are resigned to fit these relics comfortably among the ‘dying’ forms of intellectualism---collateral damage of the digital revolution. But what if this supposed untimely death is really a time of rebirth? What if there is a new generation of readers, writers, and editors who say poppycock to negative forecasts of the nation’s literary conundrum?

Recently, there have been reports of a happy uptick in literary journals. One of the newest, and arguably most fascinating, publications coming out of this trend is The American Reader, available both in print and online. Where most critics see the digital dependence of millennials and Generation Y as the core of the problem, the editors at The American Reader are deciding to trust their reading public. According to Arielle Patrick, the publication’s director of publicity, the digital era is what broadens the horizons for literature, not stifles it. “Any person with eyes and ears might wonder why a group of young, plugged-in intellectuals would consider launching a print publication in a digital era," she said. "We know our generation thirsts for content immediately, and we fill that need with our daily on-line component."

In addition to its monthly print publication, The American Reader’s online edition dips into cultural criticism and includes works beyond those featured in the printed pub. These pieces can be longer than your typical online leisure read of 140 characters, but the data shows people are actually reading them. Not only are these longer pieces getting clicks, but they are also getting more attention than their shorter counterparts. With the early success of the budding journal, it seems that there is a new generation of readers seeking a new generation of literature, a trend that perhaps speaks to bigger changes in America’s literary consumption.

I spoke with The American Reader Digital Editor Alyssa Loh earlier this month about the journal’s mission and the results they have seen so far.

NEA: What is The American Reader trying to accomplish with its print and online editions?

LOH: We want to inspire a generation of readers and restore literature to its proper place in American cultural discourse. Literature should be part of the daily back and forth. We want to host that conversation and publish criticism that speaks to daily culture and new literature. We want to make sure we give our readers the tools and the platforms that allow that. We believe in print and that it provides a unique opportunity for reading. Digital media can continue the conversation.  Just because we have become accustomed to using this media in this reduced-attention-span mindset, it does not mean that we have finished figuring out all the ways we can relate to this media and use for our own purposes. Which is why having the monthly print publication as well as the daily website is so important, because we are able to create that dynamic space.

NEA: What do you publish and what is your editorial process like?

LOH: We publish the fiction, poetry, translation, and book reviews from the print edition online, but we also include literary criticism and cultural criticism and experimental writing. In curating those pieces, we look for a variety of types and forms and lengths.

Our digital space does include longer pieces as well; we publish 2,000- to 4,000-word articles. I think part of what our project is trying to do is trust the reading public even thought there is this notion that digital spaces are only good for tidbits. There could be more conversation around whether or not the digital space can be used for more than that. Our most popular pieces [online] are our longer pieces. The longer pieces are getting the clicks. It is a really interesting development and is leading us to believe that this platform that is [not] inherently required to include only shorter pieces. We want to give this opportunity [for our viewers] to read these longer pieces, and the digital space affords an accessibility to younger generations who are more used to reading leisurely online or on the screen.

NEA: Tell us about the feel of your online edition.

LOH: After looking at other online publications, I decided I wanted ours to feel more like a living room, like an actual physical space where the reader is being invited into part of our home. We want to host a conversation. We look for a diversity of voices and when I am editing, it is more about helping each writer make his or her own points rather than trying to make what we think the intellectual currents are or should be. In gathering pieces for the publication, it is more of an inclusive than exclusive orientation. We include more established writers but also fantastic brand new voices. We want to make sure these generations remain in dialogue, and that there is an opening for these newer voices as well.

NEA: Who should Big Read readers be looking out for in terms of new literary voices? 

LOH: Chanelle Benz’s story West of the Known is stunning. Also, a memoir writer named Richard Rodriguez. He is a voice that has been around for years, but still deserves a wider audience. He’s wonderfully edifying and provides a sort of extension of Emersonian-style writing.

NEA: Where do you see The American Reader one year down the road?

LOH: It’s crucial to us that we are in conversation with readers across the country. By January 2014, we aim to be a genuinely national publication and to also involve more and more international readers.




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