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VQR Turns 80: New Look, Old Debate

PUBLISHED: December 18, 2003

From The Hook

The winter 2004 issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review is a felicitous blend of respect and revolution. A glance at the glossy color makeover attests to editor Ted Genoways’ eagerness to change the stolid face of the octogenarian journal; a look at the edition’s title confirms that this new blood knows whence it flows.

VQR volume 80, #1 is entitled A Dream Deferred: Integrated Education in America. A smart marketing choice of themes in the run-up to the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, it is also a tribute to Genoways’ predecessor, Staige Blackford, a champion of the civil rights movement who ran the Review for over a quarter of a century before his untimely death last summer.

During Blackford’s tenure, VQR subscriptions peaked at about 5,000. Genoways says they’ve slipped back to about 3,500, a common phenomenon in the cyclical life of a literary review. It’s time, he says, for a major marketing campaign, and his strategy is simple: Give readers the best writing money can buy.

If that means paying $100 a printed page and $5 per line of poetry, as the VQR now offers, so be it.

“There’s really no place paying that much today,” Genoways claims, adding, “there is no upper limit,” on what he’s willing to pay for the right piece.

To be sure, VQR has never had much difficulty attracting literary luminaries. H. L. Mencken, William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, Robert Penn Warren, and Eleanor Roosevelt have all left their mark. The current issue features Toni Morrison’s series of fictional monologues inspired by photographs of the black children who pioneered integration.

Guggenheim Fellow and National Book Award finalist Kevin Young wrote a series of poems to accompany a retrospective of Harlem Renaissance artist Romare Bearden now exhibited at the National Gallery. Both poems and paintings can be found in the new VQR, as befits the Review’s dismissal of the old “gray page” typeset.

Superior remuneration, color art, sophisticated design… you know where this revamp is going, don’t you?

“Our goal is to have the largest literary site on the web,” Genoways says. That’s where.

Three decades’ worth of back issues (25,000 pages) are on-line now, and Genoways hopes to have another 50 years archived for surfing in the next six months. Who says it’s not your father’s VQR? It’s your grandfather’s, too.

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