Earlier this month, we enjoyed Parts 1 & 2 of Terrance Hayes, the guest editor for the current issue of Ploughshares, and here are the final two parts of the great conversation when he visited Emerson College. While we’re on the subject, what do you think of the guest editing approach at Ploughshares? How do you think that such an editorial approach shapes the magazine over time?
Our third selection for Literary Magazine Club is Ploughshares, a literary magazine based out of Emerson College in Boston, MA. Ploughshares has been publishing since 1971 and is widely considered one of the most pre-eminent literary magazines in the country. Pre-eminence, is of course, a relative concept but many great writers have been published by Ploughshares and they’ve been publishing continuously for 40 years, which in literary magazine years, feels quite a bit older. Published in April, August, and December, each issue of the magazine is guest-edited by a prominent writer. The issue we are reading this month, Ploughshares 36.4 or the Winter 2010-11 issue, was edited by National Book Award winner Terrance Hayes. In his introduction, Hayes writes, “Some say imperfect lines don’t belong in a museum, but I think a sentence’s shortcomings make it human. And anyway this museum is not after perfection. Perfection is not only oppressive, it’s boring.” The writing he has selected for this issue promises to be imperfect in really interesting ways. Each week this month, starting this coming Monday, I’ll post a question that has come to me as I start reading through this issue so we can generate some discussion.
Why are we reading Ploughshares? Why the hell not. After announcing this month’s selection, one member voiced the concern that a magazine like Ploughshares doesn’t really need the extra attention it might get by being one of our selections. He felt our attention would better be directed to lesser known magazines rather than one with a higher, national profile. I understand that concern but at the same time, there’s a lot to discuss about and learn from a magazine like Ploughshares that is well-organized, well-funded, and well-regarded. In the realm of literary magazines, that combination of qualities is rare. You often have excellent magazines that aren’t well-funded or well-funded magazines that aren’t necessarily excellent. I also think there are interesting things to talk about when talking about a high profile literary magazine. Is the reputation deserved? Why? How much does reputation matter? How does it influence as both as readers and writers? Is the guest editor structure a useful one? What do those different perspectives bring to the magazine that a single editor cannot? In what ways does using guest editors, perhaps, detract from a unified voice for the magazine? What can new or lesser known magazines learn from more well-established magazines? How can independent magazines achieve a Ploughshares like reputation without university support? Is such a thing even possible or desired by the editors of independent magazines? There are countless other questions but more than anything I feel that success does not inherently make a magazine less interesting. The notion that it does feels short sighted.
The content from this issue that’s available online rotates each day so you can sample the offerings and participate that way. The best way to get the magazine though is to buy it. Even magazines like Ploughshares need reader support. Information about ordering (well worth it) is also available on the issue’s main page. As always, if you’d like to write a guest post about any aspect or piece(s) in this issue, or if you would like to join the Google Group, please e-mail me at roxane at htmlgiant dot com. I would love to hear from you. I look forward to our discussion this month! In February, we will be reading Unsaid 5. If you haven’t gotten ahold of this magazine, get on it! You will be blown away.