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Size Doesn't Matter

[whitespace] SF Literary Magazines

Local literary magazines still satisfy

By Todd Dayton

Seeing one's name in print is the luxury of the writer's world: rare and oftentimes concentrated in the hands of a few individuals whose wealth is talent. Most writers, whose work can't even pay off late fees at the library, have the additional burden of day jobs that limit their time spent writing. Few are those who can write a book of poems, a novel or a collection of short stories in a year. And yet, a lot of part-time writers are being published, poem by poem, story by story, day by day.

Behind every name in print there is an editor whose passion is to spread the gospel of kindred spirits, to publish writers whose work needs to get out. Writers who have yet to publish a poem in The New Yorker, a short story in GQ or an essay in Playboy aren't necessarily panhandling for recognition. Scribes fortunate enough to live in San Francisco can shop their talent at over a dozen established literary journals that publish poetry, fiction, essays and other forms.

What motivates these editors, many of whom are also writers, to spend their time and energy publishing others' work? It may be an opening an editor sees in the literary establishment, a gap begging to be filled. Garland Richard Kyle, who annually puts out Modern Words: A Thoroughly Queer Literary Journal, saw a landscape of anthologies and other topic-oriented books, but no litmag specific to gay writers or subject matter. "Primarily I started it because I wanted to expand the horizons of what was out there for gay writers," Kyle says.

David Buuck, co-editor of Tripwire: A Journal of Poetics, a forum for writers to explore where their work lies, socially, politically and theoretically, says that his journal aims to fill an entirely different niche in the literary environment. "One of the main questions was, what were younger and emergent writers thinking about their work?" Buuck says. "People talked about their work, they shared their work, but they didn't really write about it. Our main concern was political--to provoke that kind of discussion."

Editors of more established literary magazines say that San Francisco provides an environment that fosters creativity for writers and room for the editors who publish them. Howard Junker, editor of ZYZZYVA, perhaps the most well-known of local litmags, says that the lack of huge publishing houses, rather than stifling local publishing, has fanned its fires. "It's a free-for-all in that we are not oppressed by a lot of institutional heavyweights," Junker explains. "The cost of doing it is not oppressive. To be a literary magazine in New York is to be no status where status matters. To be that here is entrepreneurial."

Maxine Chernoff, co-editor of New American Writing, originally started the magazine with her husband Paul Hoover in Chicago. The magazine moved across the country with them five years ago, when Chernoff accepted a position as chair of the creative writing department at San Francisco State. Like Junker, Chernoff feels that the Bay Area fosters an environment ripe for literary magazines. "In Chicago we were a one-of-a-kind thing," she says. "We always felt a little like the foreign legion. Here, it's nice to be in the proximity of the people you feel connected with aesthetically." Chernoff feels that the local abundance of small magazines is an oasis in a larger literary scene that may be drying up for non-bestselling writers. "At a time when large scale publishing is moving towards mergers, it's nice to see that there's a lot happening at the more community level here."

With few subscriptions and limited readership, "community level" can mean funding the ventures out-of-pocket, as many litmag publishers know. Dan Hodge, co-editor of CLUTCH, a 5-year-old litmag that cuts cost on production without sacrificing good writing, claims that it's always been an unprofitable venture. "It costs us a few hundred bucks to put this out every year and that's about all we are able to do," he says. Although Hodge and his Chicago-based co-editor, Lawrence Oberc, plan a supplement to their issue this year, he acknowledges that with the vast number of submissions and the minimal amount of space they can afford to print, a lot of good work gets sent back to writers to re-submit elsewhere.

Chad Lange, one of the founders and editors of Asspants, another relatively new litmag, says that he paid for about half the cost of producing a recent issue. One of the solutions he had in mind was to apply for nonprofit status, which allows Asspants to seek out grants and accept donations, two staples of many a literary magazine. While remaining excited about putting out the publication, Lange knows it will be a difficult struggle to keep it going. "The downside is that litmags don't really sell very well and they're expensive to do," he says. "The positive side is that I now feel like a member of a community that is involved in putting them out."

Perhaps the editors at the longest-running litmag in the city, the Haight Ashbury Literary Journal (HALJ), have the most realistic idea about putting out a journal of literature. Producing a cheap, 16-page tabloid that can be sold on the street has its fundraising drawbacks. "Other literary magazines seem to get funding," says editor Alice Rogoff. "We feel lucky and happy to get funding from our one source, but we'd like to get more." Co-editor Joanne Hotchkiss, who's been with HALJ since it was founded 18 years ago, offers an explanation that, like the journal, has weathered the years: "The poems come together, the writing comes together. We just go along and do it. It's like a river that never stops."

A Writer's Guideline

Below is a selective list of local literary magazines, per-issue cost and contact information. Many can be found in local bookstores. No two litmags are alike and one should acquaint oneself with the writing in each magazine before submitting. At the very least, sending for writer's guidelines is advisable (enclose self-addressed stamped envelope). Also enclose SASE with submitted material for reply.

Caveat Lector--Both its format (4 1/2 x 11) and its content make this a zine folded in the other direction, with strong, intelligent writing that sticks to the roof of your brain. Publishing poetry, essays, plays, artwork, fiction, musical scores, etc. Between 30-50 percent local writers. 2X/year. $2.50. 400 Hyde St. #606, SF 94109.

CLUTCH--Kentucky-born and migratory, CLUTCH is both intelligent and accessible, dedicated to the small press and those who love it. Poetry, fiction, interviews. 1X/year, plus a supplement. A fair number of local writers. $5. 147 Coleridge St., SF 94110.

h2so4--Intellectual and experimental, h2so4 lives up to its chemical namesake (sulfuric acid, for the chemistry impaired), burning with how much smarter it is than you. Instead of Ann Landers, advice seekers receive responses from notable thinkers of old. 600 pieces of original artwork go into the making of each issue, and we're not talking photocopies. Roughly 50 percent locally written. 2X/year. $5. PO Box 423354, SF 94142.

Oxygen--Beat-inspired but by no means outdated, Oxygen is sharply edited, well written and poignant. Having shifted formats over the years, this mag has steadily gained adherents and a reputation for solid, approachable writing. 50 percent local writers, 50 percent from all over. Irregular, 1-3X/year. $5. 535 Geary St., #1010, SF 94102.

Fourteen Hills: The SFSU Review--Created by a changing line-up of grad students, Fourteen Hills blends the traditional academic litmag with experimental writing in a slick, well-produced journal. Mostly poetry, with fiction and drama. Dominated by non-San Francisco writers, though many locals' work appears. 2X/year. $7. Creative Writing Dept., 1600 Holloway, SF 94132.

Tripwire: A Journal of Poetics--Brand new, heady, as much concerned with the writing and conceptualization of poetry as with the poetry itself. Definitely not for readers and writers of butterfly and sunshine sonnets. Many local writers. 2X/year. $8. C/o Yedda Morrison & David Buuck, PO Box 420936, SF 94142.

Haight Ashbury Literary Journal--The long-term heavyweight, HALJ has been around the block and back, 18 years running. In its tabloid format HALJ is a magazine of the streets, by the streets and for the streets. Not to mention sold on the streets, by sidewalk hawkers. Mostly poetry, some fiction. Many local writers. Sporadic--1-3X/year. $2. 558 Joost Ave., SF 94127.

Modern Words: A Thoroughly Queer Literary Journal--Intense and personal, the prose and poetry of Modern Words stir readers to reflection. Its production, artwork and content make this one of the most beautiful of the local literary magazines. Many local writers. 1X/year. $12. 350 Bay St., #100, Box 325, SF 94133.

ZYZZYVA--Long-running and well-respected, this journal publishes only West Coast writers and artists. Like many lit zines, ZYZZYVA is dedicated to new and unheard voices, with a section for "First time in print" writers along with more established wordsmiths. Fiction, poetry, art, photos. Some local writers. 3X/year. $9. 41 Sutter St., Suite 1400, SF 94104.

New American Writing--Longer sections of authors' work, followed by a self-explanation/interpretation of the writing, set this journal apart from others. At times intellectual, the writing is very experimental, yet nonetheless approachable. Poetry and some prose. 1X/year. $8. 369 Molino Ave., Mill Valley 94941.

Asspants--Fresh voices, unencumbered by the burden of fame, make up the writing in this relatively new litmag. Poetry, some fiction, artwork. Predominantly locally penned. 2X/year. $8. 2232 15th St., SF 94114.

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From the December 7-20, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.

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