St. Louis' literary magazines publish big names in literature before anyone else finds them
St. Louis has had a long and star-studded literary legacy but what’s often left out of that narrative is how the legacy is still in full-bloom through literary magazines. These print publications exist in this city to showcase new and old writing talent alike and some of them are nationally-known frontrunners in the lit mag world.
In these journals’ pages, readers have found the likes of Pulitzer Prize winners, U.S. Poet Laureates, National Book Award winners (such as Joyce Carol Oates, Howard Nemerov, Michael Harper and Ted Kooser) alongside the freshest in up-and-coming literary talent in poetry, fiction, personal narrative and non-fiction writing. That includes local authors too.
“We say that five percent of our writers should be local or regional and it is not like we have to lower the bar to bring those people in because St. Louis is such a thriving literary community,” said Richard Newman, the long-time editor of River Styx. “You can’t even spit without hitting a poet between the eyes. The history of literature, from T.S. Eliot to Sara Teasdale to William S. Burroughs to Tennessee Williams, we have an incredibly rich history, even today.”
On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, three editors of local literary magazines, Boulevard, December and River Styx, joined the show to discuss how their print journals are taking on the digital age and why they call St. Louis home. St. Louis also is home to Natural Bridge, which is a publication out of the MFA program at UMSL and a variety of small presses (read more about those here).
“St. Louis has one of the most thriving literary communities in the country,” said Newman. “Look, we have three prominent literary journals right here in this room.”
Gianna Jacobson, the editor/publisher of December said that St. Louis is considered a great city for writers because of its affordability and number of literary events held per capita.
While several journals do exist side-by-side in St. Louis, that doesn’t mean the competition between them is steep.
“For all three of us, our circulation is not limited to local or regional,” Jacobson said. “It really benefits St. Louis and we benefit each other by virtue of being part of a vibrant literary community. River Styx’s success is December’s success is Boulevard’s success. If any one of us is successful, it helps the others along as well.”
“There’s not that much to fight about, really,” said Newman. “People who read literature, it’s a small audience. It’s not like it’s tons of money we are fighting over either.”
Editor: Richard Newman
How it started:
“River Styx started right here in St. Louis, in the Central West End area, associated with Duff’s Restaurant as we all know and remember. It started with a bunch of poets informally jamming and then it turned into a magazine and then it turned into an international institution really. We do poetry, fiction, essays and interviews and art, even short plays.”
Published: Three times per year
“It’s funny, we have a new fiction editor, Jennifer Dunn Stewart, and we sat down and had coffee and talked about what we want to attract in terms of writers for fiction and poetry as well. We identified the primary thing as wanting work that is moving. That goes for poetry and fiction as well. We want work that musical, that has a rhythm to it and sounds to it. The final thing is work that is surprising. Those are the three things we’re looking for.”
Circulation: Around 2,000
Other things you should know: River Styx hosts a monthly reading series with local and international authors. They also host conferences and workshops. There’s also a poetry contest, a founder’s award and a micro-fiction contest yearly.
Editor/publisher: Gianna Jacobson
How it started:
“December was founded in 1958 in Iowa City. It had this kind of iconic past in the ‘50s through the ‘80s. It was the first publication to publish Raymond Carver. It had six U.S. poets laureate had their first poems published in December. And then it died an ignoble death in the 1980s. We put a group together in 2012 and revived it. The revival issue came out in 2013.”
Published: Two times per year
“We look for a sampler platter. In prose, we look for a perfect mix of a great tale that is told well, beautiful writing and a great story to tell, that has something differ to say. … In poetry, we look for freshness and imagination and creativity with language and topic and imagery. … We also try to provide some occasional both poetry and prose that is somewhat more accessible. We want to expand the audience for literature a little bit. If we can have something that is a bit more accessible, more approachable, that invites people in that can say ‘Oh I didn’t know poetry could be like that,’ then they’re exposed to poetry that’s a little more difficult in the process and find themselves catching on to it.”
Circulation: Approaching 1,000
Editor: Jessica Rogen
How it started:
“Boulevard was founded in 1984 or 85 by our founding editor and publisher in New York City. He took it to Philadelphia with him when he was at Drexel University and then, in ’94, to St. Louis where we were published by Saint Louis University for many years. We publish short fiction, poetry and essays and have a regular question-and-answer which we call ‘Boulevard Symposium’ where we solicit a group of writers to answer a cultural question.”
Published: Three times per year
“We’re looking for work we like, basically. Work that holds us the whole time we’re reading. Our founding editor Richard Burgin likes to say ‘work that engages the heart and the mind. One of the things we hope for is to have a publication that publishes true miscellany, that doesn’t go for one kind of writing. One thing I’ll note is that our essay section is a little bit unusual for a literary magazine. WE publish both creative memoir-type work and criticism.”
Circulation: 3,000 subscribers
Disclosure: Online Producer Kelly Moffitt reads submissions for “December” during the fall and spring submission periods.
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.