paper dreams front coverI imagine that everyone reading this who’s familiar with Ninth Letter and our distinctive format expects me to write something along the lines of “literary publishing needs to be more experimental! more design-heavy! just heavier in general—we need more magazines you can hardly lift!” And it’s true, Ninth Letter is a journal that stands out, literally, on the shelf: oversized, full of color, elaborately designed, packed with inserts, foldout posters, and other gadgets. Some readers adore this; others very vocally do not. The response we most often get from people seeing Ninth Letter for the first time is, “This is a literary magazine?” The answer is yes, if by “literary magazine” you mean a publication which primarily exists to publish poetry and prose of extraordinary quality. But it’s true, we do things a little differently from everyone else. Our mission, in addition to providing a forum for great writing, is to find ways to utilize graphic design so that it illuminates and enhances the literary experience. When our experiments are successful (more often than not, I hope), Ninth Letter becomes a new kind of reading experience. We have been credited with, or accused of, attempting to “redefine” what a literary journal is—maybe we’ve even made that claim ourselves somewhere along the way. But I don’t think “redefine” accurately describes Ninth Letter’s goal. What we really want to do is experiment with what a literary magazine can be. In this new millennium of crossed genres and blurred boundaries in art and media, ever-evolving technology can provide endless opportunities for creative work. Design and writing seem a natural partnership, both in print and online. At least, that’s how we see it.

Travis-Kurowski-author-photoSo literary magazines, eh? What gives?

Well I’ve been reading literary magazines since college at Southern Oregon, where I used to troll the library between classes. My creative writing teacher, Vincent Craig Wright, had mentioned the names of a few lit mags in class one day—Ploughshares, Missouri Review, Mid-American Review—so I was curious to see what these things were. And I liked what I found. (Work from Jim Shepard and Yiyun Li memorably drew me in, as did the famous Paris Review interviews. Nowhere else in Oregon had I been given direct access to maps of the imagination.) Soon I began reading some of them kind of regularly. The Paris Review. Story Quarterly. New York Quarterly.

The novel-in-stories toes a dangerous line: In the hands of an inexperienced writer, the book can become repetitive, reappearing characters a stand-in for actual narrative development and the ‘plot’ merely a thinly-veiled tool for not being able to write a proper novel. Thankfully, this is not the case for Tracks, by Eric D. Goodman. Quite the opposite, actually.