'/> Uncommon Hours: Ted Genoways on the decline of lit mags
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Monday, February 1, 2010

Ted Genoways on the decline of lit mags

Ted Genoways’ recent article in Mother Jones, “The Death of Fiction?” is a provocative look at the decline of readership and financial support for academic literary magazines, even as submissions rise exponentially, largely fed by the increase in writing programs and students in recent years.

According to Genoways, who edits The Virginia Quarterly Review, there are currently 822 creative writing programs in the U.S.

“Consider this for a moment,” he continues. “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. And with that in mind, writers have become less and less interested in reaching out to readers—and less and less encouraged by their teachers to try.”

I read and subscribe to several lit mags, and try to spread the nominal wealth around by switching subscriptions from time to time. It often strikes me that a lot of what gets published in these magazines seems out of touch with the volatile life that surrounds us. What of the two wars we’re fighting, the fractious political and social environment, the social injustice of a have and have-not America, and the dire environmental crisis we face?

Genoways touches on this theme:

“In the midst of a war on two fronts, there has been hardly a ripple in American fiction…. Even our poets, the supposed deliverers of ‘news that stays news,’ have been comparatively mum.”

Given how much writing there is and how little of it confronts some of these vital themes, I find myself siding with Eudora Welty, who was asked one time if writing programs don’t tend to discourage aspiring writers.

“Not enough of them,” she replied.

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