This LA Times blog post titled “Fiction is dead. Again?” was accompanied by a gripping image: a hearse. This photo sums up this topic so well: every few years, someone somewhere claims that fiction is dead. And then we all move on.
Yet each time, the notion seems a little more alarming.
In this Mother Jones article, Ted Genoways, editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review, writes about the struggles of literary magazines to keep publishing amid declining subscribers and “an even greater dent in their cultural relevance.” The most interesting statistics in this article are those that add up to one simple fact: today’s writers are not reading. In other words, they are not supporting the literary magazines to which they submit.
Earlier this year, the New York Times covered the struggle of Harper’s magazine, another sad story in the fiction world (the Atlantic has already ceased publishing monthly fiction). In order to keep readers and draw new ones, many prestigious journals are offering online content in addition to the print editions — Mississippi Review, Missouri Review, Harvard Review, and AGNI among them — while others, such as TriQuarterly and Shenandoah, have been forced to go exclusively online. As Genoways notes, many magazines facing deep cuts or extinction are among the best.
The LA Times post, in response to Lee Siegel’s Observer piece calling fiction “culturally irrelevant,” this post outlines in detail — from the book-based “Twilight” craze to the lively conversations generated by The New Yorker’s “20 Under 40” list — why fiction doesn’t need a hearse just yet. But if readers don’t support the books and magazines that keep it alive, its future may be more tenuous than we’d like to believe. On The Huffington Post, Anis Shivani chats with the editors of seventeen literary journals that he thinks will survive the digital age. It’s good to see, amid the challenges, that most of the editors are hopeful about keeping their magazines going — and of course I hope the list of journals that survive and thrive goes well beyond these seventeen.
In this economy, it’s hard to justify the extras that many of us need to go without right now. But if you’re a fiction reader — and especially if you’re a fiction writer — this is the time to support these magazines in any way you can. If you give up only one month’s worth of lattes, you can subscribe to a literary magazine. If you enter a contest, you’re supporting a literary magazine or a small press. If you can’t afford a subscription, buy a journal at an independent bookstore, supporting both bookstore and the journal. We all have to make trade-offs in a poor economy — but for writers, these are choices that could make a big difference for the future of our work.