Book Reviews

Paper Dreams: Writers and Editors on the American Literary Magazine compiled and edited by Travis Kurowski

           Paper Dreams

“To express the emotions of life is to live/ To express the life of emotions is to make art.” –Jane Heap

It’s hard to pin down a literary magazine “birth year.” However, we do know that the first two magazines published in the United States were in January, 1741. In Philadelphia, Andrew Bradford published the American or A Monthly View three days before Benjamin Franklin’s General Magazine or Historical Chronicle.

It’s also difficult to define what exactly a literary magazine is; because they’re so much more than “periodicals focused on publishing literature.” My first encounter with a literary magazine was in high school. My step-father is a groundskeeper at The University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown and he used to bring me copies of Backroads. I remember comparing my poem printed in our flimsy school newspaper to the professional poetry, artwork, and prose in Backroads. Even though I graduated from UPJ in 2003 with a major in psychology and a minor in English Literature, it wasn’t until years later that I submitted a short story. Kayanna Pepper was published in the 2011 edition of Backroads. This acceptance gave me much needed confidence to continue to submit to various “little” literary magazines. Since then my work has been accepted a handful of times and rejected tenfold. Regardless, I’ll never forget waving the first acceptance email in the air and dancing through the guidance department hall (where I work as a middle school counselor). Like writer and editor Benjamin Percy, “I have slaughtered thousands of trees…” and plan on slaughtering thousands more.

According to, there were 3,000 literary magazines operating in 2012. In the words of writer and editor Roxane Gay, “It is very easy to start a literary magazine in this day and age. You don’t need money. You don’t need experience. All you need is Internet access and a few people who are willing to let you publish their work.” However, two factors that keep a literary magazine circulating are money and advertising. “To this day, only Playboy has always made a profit on both its advertising and copy-sales revenue.”

So what does the future hold for literary magazines? Most likely little known writers will continue to submit to the “little” magazines, as Ernest Hemingway and William Carlos Williams did at the start of their careers. Submissions are necessary but so are readers; it’s paramount for writers to read as well as promote the magazines they’re submitting to. By contributing to and reading literary magazines, we feel like we are a part of something great because we are. “Alone. We are alone. And the literary journal is not only an antidote to our loneliness—it is the very reason we write.”

–Benjamin Percy.

I’d recommend Paper Dreams, which gives a glimpse into the past, present, and future of literary magazines, to any logophiles out there. I agree with Roxane Gay (in regards to the abundance of literary magazines) that “we’re running out of oxygen in the room. The good news, I think, is that we (writers, readers, editors) love this literature thing so much, we’ll endure the tightening in our chests as long as we can.” If I have to, I’ll gladly strap on an oxygen tank to continue to breathe in the words of well known and little known writers published in literary magazines.

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  1. I’ve never thought much into literary magazines, but it is fun to read the short stories. I’ve thought of trying to submit a few of my flash fiction stories to them, but I haven’t done it yet. Maybe I will! Thanks for the inspiration. Also, I emailed you awhile ago at your hotmail account. Check and see if you got it. If not, email me I’ve got an awesome proposition for you :)
    Katie Cross recently posted…Everything ISBN That You Never Knew You Never KnewMy Profile

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