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Literary Journals and The Writing Community

alice-day-fiction-editor-novelsby Alice Day, Book Editing Associates

Literary journals have a long stately history.

Do you know that Ralph Waldo Emerson edited the literary magazine The Dial?

The rise of the literary journal can be traced to the mid-twentieth century. Some journals that exist today started back then, such as The Paris Review. From the seventies to the eighties there were a profusion of journals, though with tight funding, many were short-lived. In the nineties, when online literary journals began popping up everywhere, they were considered the poor relations of their proud and prestigious paper cousins. But before long, it became clear that online journals were reaching more readers than their counterpart, expensive book journals, and the financial burdens that stalk most art projects weren’t relevant to the cyber form.

What has always been exciting about journals, and it’s true even more so today with Web journals, is how quickly one’s work can be published. You can read one’s most current writing, and your readers and writing community can read what you’re currently working on. If you’re a short story writer or a poet, journals are where your work first appears. Publishing in journals can end up being a great credential when you’re looking for a publisher or literary agent. Once the agent sees you’ve had some stories published in The Paris Review or Agni, you have passed through the first line of defense. Some literary agents will scout journals when looking for talent.

Though personally I can’t help but feel that credentials are a fortunate byproduct of the literary journal’s true value and raison d’être, which is, at heart, connecting to community. We all want to find success and receive accolades for our writing. But what I tend to think is most important for us—what helps us grow and learn as writers—is to find like-minded authors, writers who are further along than us and some who are our peers, and that’s the literary journal’s greatest achievement. It creates for us an instant literary neighborhood.

Reading is the food of a writer. From creative feeding on literary journals some great friendships are formed. Although the mythology is that writers are self-reliant and work alone, that, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth.

Writers write out of the writing of other writers (that’s why it’s so important to read a lot). Writers need other writers to speak with about writing. Writers need editors to read their work and give them feedback. Writers need community! It takes a village. Think of the Algonquin Roundtable. Think of the Bloomsbury Group. Think of Maxwell Perkins and Hemingway or Fitzgerald. And let’s look at writer friendships—Ralph Waldo Emerson and Louisa May Alcott. It was Emerson who opened his library to Alcott when she was a young writer, giving her the opportunity to read the works that had most influenced Emerson as a young man. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were colleagues at Oxford University. E.E. Cummings was John Cheever’s mentor. Through a variety of configurations of types of communities, writing grows, is read, and is shared with others. It all starts with connecting to someone and having that person read your work.

Alice Day has the skill and experience to focus on a writer’s vision and help the writer realize it. She’s a hands-on editor who’s not afraid to cut words and offer insights.

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