Is Reading Dead? (Excerpt From - National CrossTalk (Winter 2005)
University-affiliated literary journals struggle to maintain funding as they compete for a shrinking audience
By Robert A. JonesLexington, Virginia
...The literary landscape has grown more perilous since the 1950s, a period that some regard as the golden era of literary magazines. During those post-World War Two years, a half dozen magazines-the Paris, Kenyon, Hudson and Southern reviews, among others-dominated the scene and garnered unto themselves most of the literary attention and financial support.
"At the time, those magazines could provide recognition and prestige to an author just by publishing a short story," said Rubin. "People would open their copies of the Southern Review or the Paris Review to see who had been anointed, so to speak. That's not true today. Literary magazines don't play that role."
They don't, in part, because reading itself plays a lesser role than it did in the '50s. A recent NEA study found that literary reading has undergone dramatic decline in the country, with less than half of American adults now reading any form of literature. That study led the Virginia Quarterly Review, published at the University of Virginia, to display on its website the drawing of a young woman, her head hung in despair and a manuscript dangling from her hand, with the caption, "Reading is Dead."
"In the 1950s we had an emerging middle class that saw literature and reading as one of the hallmarks of the educated person," said one editor. "That's not true today. Reading has lost its power to bestow status on the masses, and instead has become a cottage industry."
Perhaps so, but within that cottage industry another phenomenon is having a powerful effect on the world of literary magazines. Namely, the sheer number of literary journals is exploding even as readership has declined. Rather than the half dozen dominant journals of the '50s, about 20 major journals are now published around the country, all competing for attention and readers.
But those numbers are dwarfed by the proliferation of secondary journals that have popped up in cities and hamlets across the land. The Council of Literary Magazines and Presses estimates that the total number of literary journals in the country has hit 1,000, the highest number in history. Some exist solely online; others are published cheaply with desktop technology and may last only for one or two issues. But even as one journal dies, two others take its place.
In fact, it could be argued that the present time, and not the '50s, represents the real golden era for literary magazines. Bellevue Hospital in New York, for example, now publishes the Bellevue Literary Review. In Rochester, New York, a publication called Hazmat Review deals with poetry rather than noxious chemicals. Some journals publish only gay and lesbian literature; others accept only extra-long short stories; still others specialize in literature from certain neighborhoods in a given city.
What explains this burgeoning supply of literature in the midst of shrinking demand? Some veterans of the literary world believe the answer lies in the mushrooming culture of creative writing retreats and workshops that now churn out would-be writers by the thousands. The boom is occurring both inside universities and outside at institutions such as Breadloaf in Vermont.
"If you browse through Poets and Writers (the trade journal of creative writing) you will be amazed at the number of ads for these workshops," said Shannon Ravenel, editor and co-founder of Algonquin Books. "They're everywhere. And when you create writers, you also create readers of a particular sort. I'm talking about a crowd that wants to be published in a literary journal, and a crowd that is interested in what other writers are doing."
Another veteran sees the phenomenon more cynically. "Every writer needs an outlet," he said. "So you get tens of thousands of attendees at creative writing workshops looking for a journal to publish their one-and-only short story. If they can't find one, sometimes they simply create one to immortalize their work and their friends' work. In cases like this, the division between authors and readers is lost. Both sides are composed of the same people." ...
Complete Article: http://www.highereducation.org/crosstalk/ct0105/news0105-reading.shtml