By The Editors
January 15th, 2010
VQR editor Ted Genoways, writing in Mother Jones, has an editorial on MFA programs’ devastating effect on literary journals and fiction:
By the early ’70s—and with the development of inexpensive offset printing—every school seemed to have its own quarterly. Before long, the combined forces of identity politics and cheap desktop publishing gave rise to African American journals, Asian American journals, gay and lesbian journals. Graduates of creative writing programs were multiplying like tribbles. Last summer, Louis Menand tabulated that there were 822 creative writing programs. Consider this for a moment: If those programs admit even 5 to 10 new students per year, then they will cumulatively produce some 60,000 new writers in the coming decade. Yet the average literary magazine now prints fewer than 1,500 copies. In short, no one is reading all this newly produced literature—not even the writers themselves.
Here at VQR we currently have more than ten times as many submitters each year as we have subscribers. And there’s very, very little overlap. We know—we’ve checked. So there’s an ever-growing number of people writing and submitting fiction, but there’s an ever-dwindling number of people reading the best journals that publish it.
The result is that great keepers of the literary flame like TriQuarterly, New England Review, and Southern Review are on death’s doorstep. (By Cliff Garstang’s rankings of the Pushcart Prize anthologies, these represent three of the top twelve venues for fiction of the last decade—and another, Ontario Review, closed in 2008.) And if these journals go, they will join the illustrious ranks of Chelsea, DoubleTake, Grand Street, Other Voices, Partisan Review, and Story.
We dare say that half of the top fiction venues of the last decade—and indeed some of the great American fiction venues of all time—are in danger of folding or have already folded for lack of readership. And yet the number of fiction writers grows and grows. Fiction writers, we’re asking you directly: Why don’t you subscribe to just one or two magazines? Is $50 too high a price for the future of literary fiction?
The argument is already on over at the Mother Jones website. Feel free to comment there or share your thoughts here.
Culture Fiction Lit Mags VQR Writing