For years I gave those literary journals a mere wink and a nod and not much else, but slowly, ever so gradually, that has changed. I suppose it began four or five years ago when I attended Stonecoast, an annual writers conference put on by the University of Southern Maine.
Actually, it probably began when I met up with my editor/mentor-friend Michael Seidman at the then-annual Golden Triangle Writers Conference in Beaumont. We met: we sat in the lobby and his first question pushed hard: “What are you doing here?” Taken aback, my response, as I recall, was a combination of a mutter and stutter. He pushed. “You already know everything offered here. You could present the workshops, probably even mine, so why are you here?” I finally squeaked out something about meeting up with old friends but it fell on apparently deaf ears. “Do something else. Something more hands-on. Go to Stonecoast.”
Nine months later I traveled to the north. Talk about getting out of your comfort zone. It was fascinating, energizing and well worth my time. My workshop leaders were Ellen Lessor and Wesley Brown. The group consisted of pretty advanced writers and I don’t’ think I’ve ever sat in on such invigorating conversations about the craft of writing before or since. Nine days later I returned on a major high. At that time the whole creative nonfiction concept was making its way into the writer’s vernacular. Michael Steinberg, conference faculty member, was leading the charge. He went on to become co-editor of Fourth Genre: and I became a charter subscriber. Five years later I still look forward to each new issue.
Last fall there must have been something in the air other than SARS because I suddenly caught the literary journal bug. It’s probably the Missouri Review’s fault because they offered such a good deal and included their 25th anniversary edition as a free teaser. I subscribed. Next I found Ploughshares on the web. They actually post a daily entry from the current edition. Caught again. Then the Bellevue Literary Review, a journal that combines health and writing, tempted me with another good offer, and not too long after I succumbed to The American Scholar. Forget the Chinese and their years of dragons and monkeys. Mine is the year of the literary journal.
I’ll keep you posted.