A journal like Little Patuxent Review requires a vibrant literary and artistic community to thrive–and even survive. In appreciation of the cultural entities around us, we present “Meet the Neighbors,” where we provide you with some personal introductions.
At the start of 2010, Mother Jones published a piece that asked whether it was time to write off literary magazines and answered mainly in the affirmative. The author, the infamous Ted Genoways of the Virginia Quarterly Review, then called not only for a few bold university presidents to make necessary changes but also for writers to venture out from under the protective wing of academia and to put themselves and their work on the line. “Stop being so damned dainty and polite. Treat writing like your lifeblood instead of your livelihood. And for Christ’s sake, write something we might want to read,” he said.
By the end of 2010, The Guardian had published a piece on the renaissance of the literary magazine. It wasn’t that the author disagreed with Genoways. In fact, he cited the editor of Five Dials, the digital journal put out by one of London’s oldest publishing houses, as saying, “Some literary magazines have grown precious to the point where the humour and liveliness has long since evaporated.” Rather, he simply believed that the impact of information technology on literary magazines had come full circle: what once may have contributed to their decline was now facilitating their resurgence.
Around that time, I was taking online journals seriously enough to want to submit my own work. First to Narrative Magazine, founded in 2003 by former Esquire editor Tom Jenks and author Carol Edgarian. But Narrative seemed to favor established authors, and I was hardly that, having come to writing late in life. Still, I was willing to wait for some quality electronic publication to take on some of my short stories. I tried TriQuarterly, which the The New York Times had called “perhaps the preeminent journal for literary fiction.” TriQuarterly had transitioned from a print to an online publication in 2010 amid some critics’ cries of dismay. Atticus Review, started in 2011, also caught my eye. It had an attractive layout, posted new material weekly and featured fiction I wanted to read.
TriQuarterly picked up my “Making Soup”, and Atticus Review gave my “Winter Wonderland” a home. Since the former was located in Chicago but the latter was just a piece down the road from me in Kensington, MD, I contacted the publisher there and asked him to write a few words for LPR about how his journal got started. He graciously agreed, so it is my pleasure to introduce Dan Cafaro to you and share what he sent:
Like many a literary journal, Atticus Review started in the hazy atmosphere of indie lit debauchery. That’s only true, however, if you and I see debauchery in the same light, i.e., as an orgy of contemporary literature. Let me rephrase this and say instead that Atticus Review first spilled onto the virtual page following a predestined union of fancifully spirited minds and warped spirits at the February 2011 AWP Conference in Washington, DC.
The first concept meeting of our weekly online journal took place in front of the Atticus Books table on a dreamy residue of a Saturday morning at the AWP book fair. The impromptu gathering was attended by a trio of relatively hung over AWP marauders, as I remember: John Minichillo and Matt Mullins, two fine professors with doctorate degrees in literature, and yours truly, a self-educated hack like no other. I had become acquainted with John when he approached me some months earlier with his debut novel, The Snow Whale, an imaginative recasting of Moby-Dick, and was so taken by the sheer inventiveness of the storyline that I signed him to a book contract.
In our initial conversation, John had mentioned Matt, his friend and writing peer, with whom he was collaborating on a screenplay of The Snow Whale. [i] Matt soon thereafter approached Atticus with a story collection, Three Ways of the Saw. I was immediately smitten with the potency of Matt’s writing: the title story grabbed me by the shirt collar and cold cocked me. Against my better business judgment–story collections are as tough to market as Jesus statuettes at an atheist convention–and over a nightcap of mid-shelf bourbon after our startup publishing house’s inaugural AWP reading, Matt and I shook hands on a book deal. I could have wiggled out of our gentlemen’s agreement, but as Hemingway famously said, “Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.” [ii]
The following morning, this unlikely trio discussed how best to go about shaping a literary magazine and what that would entail. I asked for suggestions on the person to put at the helm. My informal criteria required a someone who:
- Could deal with my half-baked ideas and wildly ambitious vision for the press.
- Wasn’t afraid of making a jackass of himself or herself or making a stool pigeon out of me as long as poking fun at ourselves moved the conversation forward.
- Dug the idea of flipping the current notion of a literary journal over onto its overripe, bulbous melon.
John mentioned his wife, writer Katrina Gray, as a possibility. I didn’t know Katrina other than through her outstanding fiction but admired her spunk and figured we could make a go of it if she could deal with the workload and my whimsical nature. Ever since taking the bull by the horns, Katrina has far outshone my outlandishness and it has been a magical hayride since Day One, thanks in large part to AR conspirators and editors Libby O’Neill, Jamie Iredell and Michael Meyerhofer.
In short, Atticus Review is a moonchild conceived out of wedlock in an orgasmic storm of Tasmanian proportions, otherwise known as the whirlwind of AWP. [iii]
[i] By the way, fellows, whatever happened to that screenplay you promised?
[ii] I have no regrets. Matt and I were clearly destined to work together, and I feel fortunate to have been the first to publish his books. Fast forward and note that Atticus Books launched Matt’s collection at the 2012 AWP conference in Chicago.
[iii] There may be some funny business going on here, but I assure you that this affair in letters is not as salacious as it appears. As for the sauciness of our publication, well, you’ll have to make up your own mind about that.
Dan Cafaro is founder and publisher of Atticus Books, the deadbeat but well-intentioned grandpappy of Atticus Review. He can be found frittering away far too much time on Facebook, Pinterest and the live music section of the Internet Archive Collection. If the crowbar fails to pry him away from the computer, his wife and daughter will file for joint custody of the dogs. Atticus Review is his first attempt at in vitro fertilization. He prefers paper plates to fine china and doesn’t care a lick about Petri dishes.
If you’d like to learn more about other literary publications that have embraced the Digital Age, you might want to check out: