This year our fellow journal Overland is celebrating its sixtieth birthday, a feat that its founding editor, Stephen Murray-Smith, could hardly have imagined back in 1954. Meanjin too will soon celebrate a milestone birthday, turning seventy-five in 2015, which Clem Christensen would probably have found equally unfathomable when the first slim volume of Meanjin Papers was released in Brisbane in 1940. Meanjin was established to ensure the pleasures and preoccupations of the literary world weren’t forgotten during a time of war—a noble and ambitious goal, as the best ones usually are.
All new literary magazines are founded with just such a mix of passion and naivety. No editor would undertake the task if they didn’t feel utterly compelled, nor if they truly understood what they were getting themselves into. After the initial passion has ebbed, the choices those founding editors make will determine whether their magazine blinks out of existence when the money and enthusiasm begin to wane, or whether they can parlay that initial burst of life into steadfast longevity.
It is hard to underestimate the difficulty of publishing a literary magazine in this country. The market is small, the costs high. It is no wonder that the magazines that continue beyond an issue or two are usually the ones that find support from government or a public institution. But when a magazine is starting out, those avenues of support aren’t usually open to them. Add the collapse of traditional publishing models to the already grim picture and it would be hard to imagine why anyone would be foolish enough to found a new literary magazine these days. But thankfully the universe is generous when it comes to fools.
The last few years have seen a flowering of literary magazines in this country, many taking advantage of digital platforms, others priding themselves on producing beautiful print magazines. A couple of weeks ago I was invited to speak on a panel with the editors of two such magazines, Discipline and the Blackmail Offline, both of which are relative newcomers, distinguishing themselves through beautiful design and a strong editorial ethos. They join the ranks of other new or newish publications such asStilts, Archer, The Canary Press, Contrappasso, Ampersand, Higher Arc, Seizure and Tincture. It is surprising that I can’t reasonably list all the new ‘little magazines’ in one editorial.
Amid the sweeping changes and upheavals in the publishing industry, these magazines and their dedicated editors are carving out space for themselves and their readers. Whether they will be around to celebrate their sixtieth or seventy-fifth birthdays is really beside the point. The writers they discover, the audiences they develop, the editors they train, the generations they inspire: these are the things that will matter in seventy-five years, and these are the things that matter right now.
Republished from the upcoming issue of Meanjin. Editor Zora Sanders is travelling around the world for the next six weeks to visit literary journals such as Asia Literary Review (Hong Kong), Versal(Amsterdam), The London Review of Books (London), Stonecutter (New York), A Public Space (New York), Electric Literature (New York), Tin House (Portland), and LA Review of Books (LA) with the support of an Australia Council editorial professional development grant, and will be blogging throughout.