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Live from AWP in Austin

PUBLISHED: March 10, 2006

The AWP Conference got into full swing yesterday. The bookfair is more enormous than ever—somewhere around 750 exhibitors. The Austin Convention Center is hosting a basketball tournament, a car show, and the bookfair, if that gives you any idea of the scale. The Austin location is great—very close to legendary Sixth Street—so everyone has had a chance to escape the compound from time to time for food and, yes, drinks. The panel I was part of yesterday was well-planned (by Missouri Review’s Speer Morgan) and standing-room only. I was discussing the “renaissance” of the literary magazine with Bret Lott from Southern Review, David Lynn from Kenyon Review, T. R. Hummer from Georgia Review, and Speer. I think we, as editors, focused a good deal on the logistics of the recent sweeping changes at these magazines—the nitty-gritty of our redesigns, our websites, our newly computerized systems. The questions from the audience were great and right on target. Almost everyone wanted to know what the impact of these changes would be or has been on our content. Best of all, Peter Cooley, who has contributed to every magazine on the panel, asked what these changes would mean for the lit mag’s quest to find the elusive general reader. It’s a great question and one that every editor wrestles with. We all talked about our concerns about our aging readers (research indicates that the average subscriber is in his or her late 50s), the narrow slice of attention that we can command in an increasing media-saturated (and web-dominated) environment, and the dwindling budgets that exist for trying to stem the tide. If that sounds slightly depressing, it actually wasn’t. I came away from that session—and I hope everyone in the crowd did, too—with unusual optimism. If things are a little tough for university quarterlies right now, I got the sense that there is, at least, a group of energetic and enthusiastic editors out there working.

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