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Tomorrow magazine, the next Good thing

Six members of the editorial staff of Good magazine were laid off on June 1, including the much-praised editor, Ann Friedman. Two others quit immediately afterward. Good, in some form, will continue without them.

As people leaving an institution often do, they gathered together and had beers. Instead of crying into them, and because they like working together so much, they decided to do one last thing as a group.

That's Tomorrow. It's a single-issue magazine, and will be produced before they scatter to the winds to, they hope, new jobs.

In a Kickstarter campaign launched Monday, they hoped to raise $15,000 -- which they did in less than four hours. On the campaign website, they explain:

For the next month, we will crash on one issue of a magazine. No salaries, no health care, no ergonomic office chairs. No foundation grants, no advisory boards, no independently wealthy vanity investors—for now, at least. That means no filler, no product placement, no luxury gift guides. It means we won’t be afraid to publish things that are complicated or sexy or weird... the kinds of things that might just get you fired. (We’ve been there.) Tomorrow will feature original articles and essays about what’s on the cusp, plus fresh design, illustrations, and photography in a quality print publication.

Although no big $500 donors came in, more than 500 people have donate between $15 and $35. "This is the people’s mag for real," Freidman wrote on the Tomorrow tumblr.

Currently their total is at more than $22,000. "I would rather see everyone paid well on this issue before we go and make a second one," Friedman told New York magazine Tuesday. But if the contributions keep coming in, maybe it won't be single issue after all.


Poetry Magazine gets a little rock 'n' roll with Lou Reed

The New Yorker tries Twitter fiction with Jennifer Egan

Salon's charges of CIA ties to the Paris Review? Read skeptically

-- Carolyn Kellogg

The Reading Life: The wisdom of Harry Crews

HarrycrewsThis is part of the occasional series "The Reading Life" by book critic David L. Ulin.

In the latest issue of the literary quarterly New Letters, there's an interview from the early 1980s with Harry Crews.

Crews, who died in March at the age of 76, was a satirist, but, really, he was more than that: His novels emerge out of the dreamscape, offering bleakly funny, exaggerated portraits of America at the brink.

In his first, "The Gospel Singer," an itinerant preacher ends up in a Georgia town more grotesque than any in Flannery O'Connor's writing; "A Feast of Snakes" (1976) involves a rattlesnake roundup. My favorite is "Car," in which a man eats a full-size automobile, four ounces at a time.

The New Letters interview was conducted at a moment when Crews was on (or just coming off) the skids, at the tail end of a decades-long wrestling match with alcohol -- "I drank with two hands," he once said. "... I was drunk every day for 30 years" -- and unsure of what to do next. Nonetheless, he was feisty, not giving an inch.

Here he is on what it takes to be a writer:

One of the things that prevents people from becoming writers is the inability to look at their lives and look at what they believe. They can't look at themselves honestly and say, "Okay, that's how it is." Society makes it damn near necessary to disguise yourself. To appear "normal." To appear like everybody else. ... Whatever people think of me is fine. I made peace with that a long time ago, and realized that I'm not "gone" be like most people, not "gone" be what most people called decent. I'm not like most people, and I don't act like most people. I can live with that just fine and always have.

And here, on whether or not alcohol had finished him (clearly it hadn't, since he went on to publish five more books):

Wimps always think that things are destroyed. Wimps see a little blood and bone, and they think the game is over. They don't know you can go out and get taped up real good and shot up with a little dope and get back in and hit somebody. No ... I'm a long way from finished.

 Best of all are his thoughts on whether "all writers are congenital liars, as Faulkner said":

Oh, yes. I think the business of being a fabulist, that is to be involved with fabrication and making things up and living in the world of the imagination, all that spills over into lying even when you don't have to lie, just because you want to tell something that is memorable and compelling. In your own mind, this isn't what happened to me at Daytona Beach, but this is the way it should have happened. You tell it, and it's a great story. It's not true to the facts of the matter, but very true to the spirit of what happened -- truer in spirit than the facts are. When you give someone the spirit of the thing, that's better than the facts.

-- David L. Ulin

Photo: Harry Crews in 1998. Credit: The Gainesville (Fla.) Sun

Poetry Magazine gets a little rock 'n' roll with Lou Reed

Poetry Magazine, which makes a good portion of its content available online, has gotten a little rock 'n' roll in its June issue with a prose poem from Lou Reed. Reed, of course, was a member of the seminal band the Velvet Underground and his music, hits and experimental both, have made him an essential singer and guitar player.

But before all that, in the early 1960s, Reed was a college student at Syracuse University, where he studied under Delmore Schwartz. And it's Schwartz to whom Reed is writing in the poem, "O Delmore how I miss you."

Delmore -- Lewis MacAdams writes, "no one ever called him anything but Delmore," so I'll follow along -- was a great writer who was undone by his addictions. His story "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities," published in 1937, and the collection that followed, gave him strong, stellar footing on the literary map. He taught at Kenyon and Harvard; he wrote poetry, fiction and critical essays. And increasingly, he drank and took pills.

Reed has written obliquely about Delmore before, in a fashion: the Velvet Underground song "European Son" was dedicated to him, but there aren't many lyrics. In the poem "O Delmore how I miss you," there are quite a few more. Here's a portion:

The mad stories. O Delmore I was so young. I believed so much. We gathered around you as you read Finnegans Wake. So hilarious but impenetrable without you. You said there were few things better in life than to devote oneself to Joyce. You’d annotated every word in the novels you kept from the library. Every word.

And you said you were writing “The Pig’s Valise.” O Delmore no such thing. They looked, after your final delusion led you to a heart attack in the Hotel Dixie. Unclaimed for three days. You — one of the greatest writers of our era. No valise.

The June issue of Poetry Magazine includes works of writers who set diligently to work on their own valises: W.S. Di Pierro, Stuart Dybek, Kim Addonizio, Adrienne Rich, Rita Dove and another musician, Will Oldham.


Natasha Trethewey, 46, named U.S. poet laureate

Is that a poem in your pocket, or are you happy to see me?

Poet Adrienne Rich has died

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Lou Reed reads "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe at Royce Hall in Westwood on Halloween in 2002. Credit: Carlos Chavez / Los Angeles Times

Jonah Lehrer jumps from Wired to the New Yorker

Jonahlehrer_2010Jonah Lehrer, the author of the popular science books "Proust Was a Scientist," "How We Decide" and 2012's "Imagine," has left his post as a contributing editor at Wired for the New Yorker, where he'll be a staff writer. He's taken his blog Frontal Cortex with him.

Like Lehrer's books, Frontal Cortex focuses on the science of the mind and how it intersects with daily life. In the latest post, Lehrer writes about the neuroscience of choking -- not in the throat, but in the mind, when forced to perform under pressure.

He visits the case laid out by Malcolm Gladwell -- in many ways, Lehrer is a younger, brain-centered version of Gladwell, making him a natural New Yorker fit -- and then looks at new research that illuminates the choking phenomenon (or, if you prefer, curse).

Using the admittedly blunt instrument of an fMRI brain scanner, researchers watched subjects play a game with an increasing financial reward, trying to see where they choked, and what was going on in their heads when they did.

[R]esearchers argue that the subjects were victims of loss aversion, the well-documented psychological phenomenon that losses make us feel bad more than gains make us feel good. (In other words, the pleasure of winning a hundred dollars is less intense than the pain of losing the same amount.)

In other words, choking is about focusing on possible loss when the stakes get higher, rather than on possible rewards. Lehrer takes that idea and suggests applying it to the workplace.
Whether that's because his own workplace has just changed is an open question. Lehrer's doing just fine in the bookselling marketplace: "Imagine: How Creativity Works" has spent 10 weeks on the L.A. Times bestseller list.


The New Yorker tries Twitter fiction with Jennifer Egan

The New Yorker reboots online book coverage

The New Yorker Festival announces lineup

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Jonah Lehrer in 2008. Credit: Thos Robinson / Getty Images for World Science Festival

Salon's charges of CIA ties to the Paris Review? Read skeptically


In 1953, three American writers living in Paris — George Plimpton, Peter Matthiessen, and Howard L. Humes — founded a literary magazine, the Paris Review. Matthiessen, who won the 2008 National Book Award for fiction, has admitted that he worked for the CIA at the time — that's not news.

The Salon news is principally about the Paris Review and the Congress for Cultural Freedom. A cultural outpost during the Cold War, the Congress for Cultural Freedom was designed to win the hearts and minds of international players who might be tempted by the lure of communism. Among other things, it created and supported magazines in Europe and the former Axis powers of Germany and Japan. It was secretly funded by the CIA, a fact that came to light later, in a 1967 article in the New York Times.

Researching in the Paris Review archive at the Morgan Library in Manhattan, what Joel Whitney has found are ties between the Paris Review and the Congress for Cultural Freedom. Plimpton sought support for special projects from the organization, and the magazine syndicated its interviews with famous American authors, such as Ernest Hemingway, to the magazines the Congress for Cultural Freedom supported in other countries.

While the piece is interesting for the window it provides into the cultural aspects of the Cold War, that window seems to be installed askance. For example, Whitney writes:

As several of the Morgan letters, never reported on before, indicate, the CIA would augment the meager literary quarterly pay — and the ways to work together had already become multiply evident. The Review was to coordinate the hiring through “friends of the Congress.” The Paris Review’s candidates were Frederick Seidel, the New York poet, and Roger Klein.

The passage is not technically untrue — the CIA was a funder of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, and the letters were describing an arrangement in which a new Paris Review editor would also hold a Congress for Cultural Freedom job in order to make ends meet. But since the relationship between the CIA and the Congress for Cultural Freedom wasn't known at the time, it might not be an entirely fair leap. The letters weren't about the CIA augmenting pay, they were about the Congress for Cultural Freedom providing a day job.

If this CIA connection is a stretch, this one is evidently clear: Whitney has found consistent and real evidence of a literary magazine struggling to support itself financially.

By the time he drops in a mention of George W. Bush's war in Iraq, the threads of the article have become unsupportably tenuous. (The connection is Daniel Bell, a man who was suggested, but apparently did not serve, as an interviewer of the above-mentioned Klein and Seidel; a few years later, Bell went on to co-found the conservative magazine the Public Interest).

While Whitney allows that the Paris Review writers may have been unaware of the connections between their magazine and the CIA, he writes, "a secret patronage system, paid for by the taxpayer with no public debate, appears to have existed." Before getting huffy about American tax dollars going to pay for distributing interviews with Nobel Prize-winning authors around the world with "no public debate," take a moment to consider the Pentagon's classified, undebated black budget, reported in 2008 to be $32 billion. Is cultural funding really so terrible?

It might be, if the magazine's independence of thought was threatened. Whitney implies that this is the case, noting that while the Paris Review sought the Congress for Cultural Freedom's support, other magazines, such as the Evergreen Review, aired criticisms of American policies. This is a concluding note, not particularly detailed — if it were, there might have been space to mention that the Evergreen Review published its interview with Che Guevara in 1968, a year after the connection between the Congress for Cultural Freedom and the CIA had been revealed in the N.Y. Times report, altering its role and its name. It's not clear when, exactly, the Paris Review stopped receiving funding from the Congress for Cultural Freedom.

The basics that Whitney lays out from his research are fascinating, but his conclusions — including asides like this that mention the CIA's most insidious activities, such as assassinations — overreach. Read, but read skeptically.


Esquire, adding fiction ebooks, goes back to the future

Filmmakers behind George Plimpton documentary seek final funds in Kickstarter campaign

Steven Millhauser beats DeLillo, Pearlman for 2011 Story Prize

— Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: George Plimpton (and friend) in 1977. Credit: Nancy Crampton

Esquire, adding fiction ebooks, goes back to the future

On Monday, Esquire announced that it will launch a new line of fiction ebooks with the help of e-publisher Open Road Media. The ebook series will be titled, plainly, "Fiction for Men." Editor-in-Chief David Granger tells the New York Times that men's fiction is "plot-driven and exciting, where one thing happens after another."

That definition elicited groans on Twitter. "Oh good. Because lady readers & lady writers HATE exciting fiction when 'one thing happens after another,'" tweeted editor Reagan Arthur, who has her own imprint at Little, Brown. "Someone needs to tell Ian McKewan he's been writing women's fiction," wrote author Nichole Bernier. "Finally, men's fiction is getting its due. FINALLY," Maura Johnston, an editor at the Village Voice, tweeted. "So glad to see this neglected niche recognized,"  wrote Jennifer Weiner, whose work is often characterized as women's fiction.

Despite the ire, it makes sense that Esquire, a men's magazine, might try to go for fiction that men might like, reaching out to its reader base. In fact, it's done it before. In 1933, it first published an anthology of some of its best fiction, "The Bedside Esquire" (that title, too, was problematic; one publisher thought being in 'a bedside anything' was unbecoming a writer of stature). "The Bedside Esquire" included all kinds of writing from its magazine -- the controversial essay "Latins Are Lousy Lovers," a primer from famed attorney Clarence Darrow on how to choose a jury -- but was predominantly fiction.

Some of the authors found in a 1940 edition of "The Bedside Esquire" are legendary: Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, D.H. Lawrence, Ben Hecht, John Steinbeck, Theodore Dreiser, Ring Lardner, Langston Hughes, Irwin Shaw and John Dos Passos. Others like Parke Cummings and Donal Hough, both of whom appear twice, prove to be less lasting. At 702 pages, however, there is a lot of fiction here to choose from.

With that history, what's interesting is that Esquire stopped thinking of fiction as something to be proud of. "Fiction begins to feel a little bit of a luxury," Granger told the New York Times. So the ebook offering is a kind of solution.

It is, unfortunately, sort of a muddled one. The first issue of its fiction ebook series will have stories by Luis Alberto Urrea, Aaron Gwyn and Jess Walter. It's being released in conjunction with the June/July issue of the magazine, which contains three different stories -- by Colum McCann, Lee Child, and the father/son team of Stephen King and Joe Hill. So Esquire readers who want fiction will get one set of stories in print, and an entirely different set of stories in the ebook. Let's hope they're good at figuring out which product to buy for which content.

Esquire's first "Fiction for Men" will be published June 12.


Curated short fiction: Recommended Reading

Have you seen this short story?

Steven Millhauser beats DeLillo, Pearlman for 2011 Story Prize

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: "The Bedside Esquire" anthology, 1940 edition. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg

The Reading Life: Interviewing William Burroughs


This is part of the occasional series "The Reading Life" by book critic David L. Ulin.

The latest issue of Sensitive Skin, a magazine "by and for ne'r-do-wells, black sheep, blackguards, scoundrels and wastrels," features a long interview with William S. Burroughs, conducted by his friend and running mate Allen Ginsberg in the early 1990s, when both men had achieved an uneasy status as elder statesmen of the underground.

Burroughs, who died in 1997 at the age of 83, was living at the time in Lawrence, Kan., where he settled in the 1980s; Ginsberg had come to participate in a sweat lodge ceremony to exorcise "the ugly spirit," a possessing force Burroughs felt had influenced, among other tragedies, the accidental shooting death of his common-law wife, Joan Vollmer, in Mexico City in 1951.

According to a note by editor B. Kold, the interview came to him in 1995 by way of Ginsberg himself; it was mislaid when Sensitive Skin went on a long hiatus, and subsequently rediscovered after the magazine was revived in 2010. It is accompanied by a suite of Ruby Ray photographs, originally shot for RE/Search, which ran a special Burroughs issue in 1981.

If all of this sounds like ancient history, that's true in its way, I suppose. But reading the interview, a couple of impressions linger. First is just how prescient both Burroughs and Ginsberg were, talking about politics and advertising as a virus, a decade before viral marketing. Even more, there's Burroughs' diffidence, his taciturnity, even around a lifelong friend. In fact, one of the secret joys of the interview is seeing how it unfolds: Ginsberg asking questions in long paragraphs, which Burroughs often answers in a word or two.

For anyone who ever spoke to Burroughs, this was the challenge. As Charles Platt recalls in Ted Morgan's Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs: "Burroughs turned out to be almost as difficult to talk to as I feared. He is polite and perfectly willing to tolerate my presence, but many of his remarks are dismissively brief, as if the questions bore him.... Typically, he makes a brief categorical statement, then stops and regards me with his pale eyes as if waiting to see if I really intend to ask any more dumb questions."

That was my experience also, when I visited Burroughs in Lawrence in April 1996.

Continue reading »

When an umlaut is not an umlaut

The New Yorker has taken to the Internet to explain that what looks like an umlaut in its pages is not, in fact, an umlaut. It's a diaeresis. On its Culture Desk blog, Mary Norris explains:

The special tool we use here at the New Yorker for punching out the two dots that we then center carefully over the second vowel in such words as “naïve” and “Laocoön” will be getting a workout this year, as the Democrats coöperate to reëlect the President.

Those two dots, often mistaken for an umlaut, are actually a diaeresis (pronounced “die heiresses”; it’s from the Greek for “divide”). The difference is that an umlaut is a German thing that alters the pronunciation of a vowel (Brünnhilde), and often changes the meaning of a word: schon (adv.), already; schön (adj.), beautiful. In the case of a diphthong, the umlaut goes over the first vowel. And it is crucial. A diaeresis goes over the second vowel and indicates that it forms a separate syllable. Most of the English-speaking world finds the diaeresis inessential. Even Fowler, of Fowler’s “Modern English Usage,” says that the diaeresis “is in English an obsolescent symbol.”

That obsolescence proves complicated, apparently, when it comes to auto-correct functions. And it's also troublesome when it comes to readers; many write in, uncoöperatively, to complain about its use.


Why Finnish is cooler than English

Festival of Books: The new magnetic poetry and you

Wherefore art thou, refudiate? Sarah Palin as Shakespeare

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Editor Ted Genoways will leave Virginia Quarterly Review

Virginia Quarterly Review

Ted Genoways, the editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review, will be leaving the magazine May 31, the University of Virginia announced Wednesday. On Tuesday, VQR, as it is known, was nominated for two National Magazine Awards.

Genoways became editor of VQR in 2003. During his tenure, the magazine went from a quiet literary journal to a significant participant on the national stage, particularly with its literary nonfiction and reportage. It was nominated for more than two dozen National Magazine Awards, winning six, including the award for general excellence in 2006 for magazines of its size.

In 2010, Genoways came under scrutiny when the magazine's managing editor, Kevin Morrissey, committed suicide. Although local media in Charlottesville continues to focus on Morrissey's unhappiness in his job, a University of Virginia investigation found Genoways innocent of alleged workplace bullying.

A new publisher and deputy editor joined VQR in December. Publisher Jon Peede is a former literature director at the National Endowment for the Arts. Donovan Webster, the magazine's new deputy editor, will serve as interim editor after Genoways exits at the end of May. Additionally, Jane Friedman will join the staff to focus on digital content and social media.

In the University of Virginia announcement of Genoways' departure, he says, "I will miss working with so many talented writers and photographers, but I felt the time was right.... I have several projects, both books and articles, that I have long set aside to focus on the magazine. I'm excited to be able to concentrate on that writing now — and I feel comfortable leaving, knowing that VQR is in good hands with the new staff. I look back on my nine years as editor with pride, but I also hope that the new staff will not feel in any way encumbered by that legacy. VQR is theirs to steward and reimagine now, and I hope they will be able to build on and exceed past successes."


UVA issues VQR audit: No bullying on record

Virginia Quarterly Review, Part 2: Forging a future, now in jeopardy

Virginia Quarterly Review, Part 1: A suicide rocks the esteemed literary journal

— Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: The Virginia Quarterly Review. Credit: boboroshi via Flickr

Los Angeles Magazine nominated for two National Magazine Awards

The American Society of Magazine Editors on Tuesday announced finalists for the Ellies, its annual awards for excellence. Los Angeles Magazine is a finalist in two categories, one of 26 multiple nominees.

Mike Kessler's September story, "What Happened to Mitrice Richardson?" is a finalist in the reporting category. Richardson, pictured above, was missing for more than a year after disappearing in Malibu. Kessler's story begins, "A recent college graduate, she was jailed briefly for trying to skip out on her dinner tab in Malibu, then freed in the middle of the night in a neighborhood far from home. She had no car, no ride, no phone, and no money. When she disappeared, it raised a flurry of questions about how the sheriff’s department handled her case. The discovery of her body a year later only raised more."

The New Yorker has two nominees in the category: "Getting Bin Laden" by Nicholas Schmidle and Lawrence Wright's "The Apostate," about film director Mike Figgis' involvement with, and departure from, Scientology. The other reporting nominees are "Our Man in Kandahar" by Matthieu Aikens in the Atlantic and "Echoes From a Distant Battlefield" by Mark Bowden in Vanity Fair.

The other Los Angeles Magazine finalist is novelist Steve Erickson, who serves as the publication's film critic. Erickson's recent criticism includes his own alternate Oscars and a year-end summary that focuses on films by Lars von Trier, Jeff Nichols and Terrence Malick. In the columns/commentary category, Erickson's competition is the Atlantic's James Parker, Time's Joel Stein, Bill Heavey in Field & Stream and Christopher Hitchens in Vanity Fair.

Another novelist, Jonathan Franzen, earned a nomination for the story "Ambition" published in McSweeney's. That's in the fiction category, where McSweeney's earned another nomination as well, for "The Northeast Kingdom" by Nathaniel Rich. Other nominees are Karen Russell for "The Hox River Window" in Zoetrope, Maggie Shipstead for "La Moretta" in the Virginia Quarterly Review and "Scars" by Sarah Turcotte in the Atlantic.

A complete list of the National Magazine Award nominees is online. The Ellies will be awarded at a ceremony in New York on May 3.


Congrats to Digital Ellie finalist, the Book Beast

2011: National Magazine Award finalists announced

Virginia Quarterly Review, Oxford American win digital National Magzine Awards

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Photos of Mitrice Richardson are displayed during the search for the missing woman. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times


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