22 FEBRUARY 2018 | KAREN KAO
A literary magazine is an endangered species. Many die along the way in part because most journals don’t reach beyond the personal network of their founding editor. Yet every one of them is a labor of love.
We should cherish those journals still alive and kicking and celebrate every newcomer who blasts onto the stage. So here’s a smattering of works I recently found and loved in the pages of a literary magazine.
the new yorker – jonas hassen khemiri
The New Yorker is the grande dame of the US literary magazine world. Founded in 1925, the magazine contents are available in print, online and in podcast form. I particularly enjoy the long form essays because they give me, a long-time expat, a window into the United States. But that’s another story.
My focus here is the fiction. In keeping with its illustrious status, The New Yorker tends to publish well-established short fiction writers. Lately, though, it seems to be reaching out to include works in translation. This perhaps explains the inclusion of Swede Jonas Hassen Khemiri and his surprising short story in the September 25, 2017 issue of The New Yorker.
As You Would Have Told It to Me (Sort Of) If We Had Known Each Other Before You Died is an anti-story. A self-proclaimed attempt at keeping reality at bay. The narrator is peacefully watching TV when police barge into his home. He assumes this is all a prank, dreamed up by his good friends as a bachelor’s party. Or, so the narrator says.
I love the way this story screws with your mind. Who is the narrator? And to whom is he speaking? Could it be me? Check out his website.
narrative magazine – art hanlon
Regular visitors to my website will know that I’m a fan of this journal which exists in print and online form. I read the online version which, in addition to short fiction, publishes poetry and essays.
Essays as a genre increasingly attracts me. You can apply a directness that would otherwise be heavy-handed in fiction. There is an understanding between reader and writer that an essay is meant to convey some information or, at the very least, an opinion.
Imagine my surprise then at “The Brilliant Present” by Art Hanlon. In form, this is memoir. In substance, it’s poetry. Which should not have surprised me since Hanlon is the associate poetry editor for Narrative Magazine.
In “The Brilliant Present”, Hanlon recalls the lives of his wife’s grandparents, Nicolai and Zinaida. They were White Russians chased by the Bolsheviks across Russia in the winter of 1920. Trapped between the rapidly approaching Bolshevik army and the border with China, Nicolai’s regiment hazarded the 30 mile march across frozen Lake Baikul.
Few of the 30,000 strong regiment survived, let alone their wives, children and elders who came burdened with the detritus of their former lives. Those who made it across spent their lives as exiles in Harbin. The rest became a gruesome attraction for locals who skated across the lake to peer into their frozen faces.
Then, the spring came:
the ice slowly liquefied, and the silence was broken by the humming of flies and the cries of ravens circling overhead. From the roofs in town you could see strangely vibrating black lines snaking from the shore and spreading in a skein across the still-frozen, bone-white ice cap of the lake—carrion beetles making their way over the ice.
versal – verso/
Versal is a literary magazine based here in Amsterdam. Its first issue appeared back in 2003 so in many ways Versal and its founding editor and poet Megan M. Garr are the grande dames of the Amsterdam literary community you see today. Versal is available only in print, which makes it an old school literary journal.
VERSO/ is its evil twin. A bimonthly event in Amsterdam, it features live-form poems, stories, essays, interviews and reviews. Each VERSO/ volume runs for multiple events. The current theme Uprising.
The February 11 performance was titled “Uprising – Seat at the Table.” Centered on Solange’s 2016 album A Seat at the Table, this edition was “guest-edited” by Marly Pierre-Louis and Smita James. Marly quoted from an interview Solange gave to NPR in which she explained her intentions.
I’m inviting you to have a seat at my table. And it’s an honor to be able to have a seat at our table and for us to open up in this way and for us to feel safe enough to have these conversations and share them with you.
This live performance is what a literary magazine should do. Dazzle you with some poetry, shake up your perceptions with an in-depth interview and make you want to get up and dance when it’s all over.
shanghai literary review – issue no. 2
This Shanghai-based magazine started up in 2017 and already has two issues to its name. Issue no. 2 came to me in the mail because I am one of the contributors and incredibly proud of it. Certainly given the company I’m in.
Zhu Yue is a Beijing author with three short story collections to his name. His contribution to TSLR issue no. 2 is a short story entitled “My Poor Girlfriend”, as translated by Jianan Qian. The setting is Hospital Ward Six, where the girlfriend lies in bed.
“My boss gave me a piece of White Rabbit Creamy Candy. Here.” […]
“No, you eat it.” She strained to prop herself up.
“You need the nourishment. You have it.”
“Let’s each take half, or I won’t eat.”
In her editor’s note, Juli Min writes of being both part or and outside a place, especially one as elusive as Shanghai. The writers, translators, poets and visual artists represented in issue no. 2 live inside the cracks, looking from the outside in or from the inside ever deeper.
Nigerian artist Olufemi Lawal is a photographer, songwriter and poet. His essay “Earth” shows us the world changing as it evolves through the colors black, orange, red and grey.
Poet Kassy Lee writes of another black man in China in “Langston Hughes in Shanghai.” Here’s one wonderful riff.
The watermelon seller drags his net
filled with red-hearted melons through
this death-polluted river to give them
extra weight to be sold by the pound
in Shanghai. These blood-soaked
watermelons are the best damn
watermelons in the world.