“Saturday Evening Post” Gets (A Little Bit) Modern

The venerable magazine is reinventing itself, while staying true to its Norman Rockwell heritage.

Saturday Evening Post / Via Flickr: satevepost

Saturday Evening Post editorial director Steven Slon.

When editorial director Steven Slon joined the Saturday Evening Post, the most common reaction he got was, “I thought that was out of print.” It’s not — it’s been publishing under the same name since 1821. But it is reinventing itself, with new digital products and hopes of appealing to a (slightly) younger audience. It’s also continuing to spotlight fiction, and giving a group of writers — many of them female — their first major national attention.

The winner of the magazine’s 2013 Great American Fiction Contest and three of the six runners-up were female. None of the seven had yet been published in a major national magazine. The gender breakdown wasn’t the result of a conscious effort, said CEO and publisher Joan SerVaas at a reception for the winners on Tuesday: “It just turned out that way. But go women!”

What is a conscious effort is the magazine’s modernization, coinciding with a move of editorial operations from Indianapolis to Philadelphia. Slon mentioned an upcoming mobile platform and e-book releases as efforts to bring the publication into the digital age. And he cited Vanity Fair as an example of “a classic title that was rebranded and brought up-to-date.” The Saturday Evening Post might become like “Vanity Fair with a middle-American sensibility.”

Saturday Evening Post / Via Flickr: satevepost

Contest winner Lucy Jane Bledsoe.

They’re not going to get too modern. SerVaas said that when they talk about courting a younger crowd, they mean Baby Boomers. And Slon noted that one of the magazine’s biggest strengths was its longevity: “What we bring that’s unique is the historical perspective. We were there.”

Contest finalist Caroline Sposto, a newcomer who’s been writing fiction for just two years, said she’d read more of the Post’s reissues of fiction by classic American authors than its newer discoveries. She submitted two stories for the contest: “One was nostalgic and one was actually a historical piece, and they picked the one that was set in the 1950s over the one set in the 1850s.”

For all its modernization, the Fifties still clearly have a hold on the Post: the evening’s gift bags bore a Post cover from 1958, bearing a Norman Rockwell painting of a boy and a policeman at a diner. The actual policeman, Dick Clemens, died last year, prompting the Post to publish a goodbye.

Saturday Evening Post / Via Flickr: satevepost

The winner, finalists, and magazine staff.

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