the contextual life

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Dispatches: From the Mouths of Magazine Editors

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Last night at McNally Jackson three magazine editors came out to give the crowd a behind-the-scenes look at the editorial process. Deputy Editors Ellah Allfrey and James Marcus, of Granta and Harper’s Magazine, respectively, were joined by Deborah Treisman, The New Yorker Fiction Editor, for a round table discussion moderated by John Freeman.

John, the Editor of Granta, started the night with a question about the latest Vida results, an organization that tracks female representation in magazines — stories and reviews written by women and books written by women, reviewed. Deborah revealed the generational divide she sees in the submissions to her magazine. Stories from writers age 40 and up come from more men than women while with those from writers under 40 the ratio is close to an even split. James admitted that the results from Harper’s are “rotten” (articles written: 13 female:65 male; book reviews: 10 female:23 male; author’s reviewed: 19 female:53 male). Their fiction split is close to even but because they publish foreign reportage, most of the nonfiction articles come from men. Ellah was happy to report that Granta did very well, with more female contributors than male. Ellah attributes this to their magazine’s tradition of publishing each issue based on a theme.

The group went on to discuss the steady stream of material flowing into the slush pile and how they wade through it — a mixture of interns and editorial staff. John brought up the lack of short story writers in Britain, which Deborah boiled down to the lack of encouragement from the publishing market. If there are less than a handful of places to sell your short story, why write one? Ellah, visiting from England, mentioned that with the rise of innovation of how the stories are consumed, as audio on BBC Radio for example, the situation overseas is improving.

Talk of different ways of experiencing the written word inevitably led to discussion of digital. The New Yorker has a fiction podcast where contemporary authors, featured in the magazine, choose a story from the archive to read aloud. The magazine also have a book blog where twice a month Deborah speaks with the author whose fiction is featured in the current issue. Granta features new writing on their site nearly every day. And while Harper’s is slower getting into the digital game, a conscious choice by the top decision maker, there is talk about a change in policy.

The liveliest part of the evening might easily have been when all four took turns discussing the writers they were enthusiastic about. And, so, this week’s “On the Shelf” segment comes from the experts. Here were their answers.

Deborah named Callan Wink who wrote the short story “Dog Run Moon” for the magazine. You can check out his Q&A with Deborah here. His story is subscription only but from what it sounds like, it’s worth paying for. Looking ahead, she is currently reading Salman Rushdie’s memoir, due out from Random House in 2012.

James chose Clancy Martin who published the book How to Sell with FSG in hardcover and then Picador in paperback. He also mentioned Bonnie Nadzam who came out with the highly acclaimed, award-winning novel Lamb last year.

John’s picks were Louise Erdrich for her short story writing skills and Julie Otsuka, a past contributor to Granta, who wrote Buddha in the Attic. He called the author Ross Raisin a “ferocious stylist” and suggested everyone read him. And finally, he mentioned Richard Ford’s introduction to The Best American Short Stories from 1990 for his comments on short story structure.

Ella highlighted a new Nigerian author Chinelo Okparanta who writes stories about lesbian lovers in Africa and environmental issues that threaten the country.  I believe she’ll be published in the magazine soon.

Patrick Ryan, Granta’s associate editor, when he joined in the discussion to share an adorable slush pile story, mentioned Chris Dennis, a recent contributor to the magazine.

I know my reading list just got longer. What short story collections are you reading? What new short story writers have your attention? Comments are open.

Written by Gabrielle

March 1, 2012 at 6:57 am

8 Responses

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  1. Any recommendations for short story collections? Thanks.


    March 2, 2012 at 6:16 am

    • I haven’t read it, but I’ve heard great things about Dan Chaon’s ‘Stay Awake’. The Millions profiles him here

      If you want something edgy, I liked ‘The Speed Chronicles,’ which I reviewed a few posts back.

      Krys Lee’s ‘Drifting House’ is getting a lot of praise, if you’re interested in the Koreas (although I’m sure it extends beyond that narrow focus).

      McSweeney’s collections might be a good bet .. or those “Best American Short Story” collections.


      March 2, 2012 at 10:05 am

  2. […] Gabrielle Gantz covered the recent Harper’s/Granta/The New Yorker discussion at McNally Jackson. […]

  3. Oh gosh Gabrielle I wish I could have gone to this! Sounds like it was a great event. I don’t suppose there were any snippets of wisdom from the New Yorker folks on what they’re looking for these days? (Besides simply quality writing of course 🙂 )


    March 2, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    • Ha. I think that about sums it up. The editor didn’t give many details.


      March 2, 2012 at 4:20 pm

  4. […] Look at this nice shout-out! Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Categories […]

  5. “The group went on to discuss the steady stream of material flowing into the slush pile and how they wade through it”
    you didn’t tell us how. that is of most interest to writers, how do they decide.
    from your blog post I don’t get much of a glimpse of the ‘behind the scenes’ editorial process that you mention in the beginning.


    March 9, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    • Good point. The editorial staff reads through it. From what I understand, they do get to all submissions.


      March 9, 2012 at 5:13 pm

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