Katrina Denza’s Lit Mag Roundup 1.0

The Lit Mag Roundup is a new, quarterly feature at Moorishgirl.com, in which North Carolina-based fiction writer Katrina Denza shares her literary discoveries of the season.

I bought my first literary journal subscription in 1999. A longtime reader of novels, that was the year I’d begun to explore writing. I don’t remember where I first saw an issue of Story, but after I read a copy, I fell in love with the short story form and subscribed. I still have on my desk an old issue of the now-defunct magazine, edited by Lois Rosenthal and Will Allison, and featuring stories from Tim Gautreaux, Matt Cohen, Ingrid Hill, and the late Carol Shields, to remind me of when my excitement for short stories first ignited.

Now, my bookshelves are filled with literary journals. I subscribe to at least twenty a year, and piled in stacks all over my house are samples from over sixty journals. They are as important to me as the short story collections and novels with which they share shelf space. This is all well and good for me, but if I were to ask some stranger on the street if he’s heard of a particular literary journal, most likely his answer would be no. I wonder how it is that such amazing work is left to collect dust in the few bookstores that carry them, or kept insulated in the academic world. If books are the showy muscles of the literary world, then journals are the blood: hidden, self-renewing, and essential.

The vast array of print journals is staggering. Some are associated with universities, others are independent. Some journals such as Zoetrope: All Story; Orchid; Land-Grant College Review; and One Story print all fiction. Many journals, like Missouri Review; AGNI; The Kenyon Review; Virginia Quarterly Review; and others of similar quality offer an excellent mix of fiction, essays, poetry, art, author interviews, and book reviews. Some focus on poetry (Borderlands, Poetry, and Beloit Poetry Journal). Still others specialize in offering short-shorts (Vestal Review, Brevity, Quick Fiction, SmokeLong Quarterly) or a mix of poetry and prose poetry (Cranky, The Bitter Oleander, Parting Gifts). There are journals that showcase women (Iris, Calyx, Emrys Journal) and others that feature stories about, and for, mothers (Brain, Child and Literary Mama). Most are glossy covered, some are stapled together, some have unique packaging (McSweeney’s), and one even has an artful hand-bound format (Spork). The choices seem unlimited, something for everyone.

Because I’m a visual person, I’ve picked up a journal solely on the vibrancy of the cover. Some journals I buy out of curiosity and a few get my subscription money simply because one of their fiction editors went out of their way to be encouraging or supportive of my work. A journal’s reputation may induce me to pick up a copy or subscribe for a year, but it’s not what keeps me going back for more. Here’s what does it for me: excellent, attainable fiction and poetry, beautiful art, and an encouraging, courteous staff. There are many I love–it would be hard to name favorites. And like my books, I buy more than I could possibly read with the thought I’ll get to them eventually. In this new year I plan on getting to know them better and sharing my discoveries. I’ll begin with two recent examples of literary excellence:

The Kenyon Review is a great mix of fiction, essays and poetry. I read the Fall 2005 issue and found much to like. Editor David H. Lynn opens with his notes on the summer’s workshops held in Italy. In Champa Bilwakesh’s story, “The Boston Globe Personal Line,” a widowed man teeters between succumbing to his loneliness and beginning a new relationship. “Digesting the Father,” by Kellie Wells, is a knockout story with arresting language and images:

‘Love,’ she said, ‘it’s a balled-up fist you hit yourself with, but you like it that way cause the beauty of contusions is that they disappear.’

In Geeta Kothari’s multi-layered, “Missing Men,” a woman used to running from her past has to decide whether to continue to do so. Lily Tuck’s “Lucky” draws a full circle of human connections, and Gregory Blake Smith’s “The Madonna of the Relics,” is set in Venice and tells of the difficulty an art restorer has with matters of the flesh. The poetry is vibrant and doesn’t shy away from the political: David Wojahn’s “Dithyramb and Lamentation,” speaks potently of the ravages of war, the horrors of torture, and of the current administration’s manipulations.

AGNI Magazine #62 is full of stunning and varied fiction. Gania Barlow’s “Clytemnestra,” is an atmospheric, haunting story of a woman’s grief upon the death of her daughter. In Xujun Eberlein’s moving “Pivot Point,” an intellectually gifted but lonely woman, in love with a married man, becomes intrigued by the idea of suicide and the ending is left brilliantly ambiguous. Mary O’Donoghue’s “Motorcross,” highlights the difficulties a girl faces in growing up with a mentally and physically challenged brother and shows her eventual selfless triumph. Tova Reich’s “Dedicated to the Dead,” tells the story of a man who’s convinced that “his karma is to be Jewish.” Tom Whalen’s “Conversation with Godard,” is not to be missed, and Nicholas Montemarano slayed me with his brave story of a father’s grief and guilt. The poetry is vivid and emotive, but Stephen Dunn’s “The Soul’s Agents,” really spoke to the writer in me. Sven Birkerts begins the issue with his thoughts on Saul Bellow while vacationing in Italy; there’s an insightful interview with essayist Edward Hoagland; and the art featured is gorgeous paper collage by Maureen Mullarkey.

Originally from Vermont, Katrina Denza now lives in North Carolina with her husband and two sons. Her stories have been published or are forthcoming in Lynx Eye; New Delta Review; SmokeLong Quarterly; Emrys Journal; RE:AL; Cranky; The Jabberwock Review; and The MacGuffin among others.


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