From George Plimpton’s Paris Review, which boosted Philip Roth and Jack Kerouac, to Gen X’s PBR-soaked n+1 tomes, small literary magazines and the young men who run them have traditionally played an outsize role in America’s cultural conversation. But this decade’s new small magazines have made a sharp break from the past. Their topics may vary, but their tone is earnest and inclusive. They’re completely comfortable in the new digital medium. They’re driving a new intellectual conversation that exists not just at New York cocktail parties, but on Twitter. And they’re mostly run by women, a deliberate reaction to a literary boys’ club that stretches back pretty much forever. Here are a few that are required reading.
Founded in: 2009
Run by: Editor-in-Chief Rachel Rosenfelt (founded with Mary Borkowski and Jennifer Bernstein)
Old-world counterpart: The New Republic
Subscription cost: $2/month
What’s the deal: Although it’s a digital-only publication, it’s clearly the next little heavyweight out of its young counterparts. It accomplishes the rare task of being an intellectual publication that draws regular readers in, without sacrificing any of its intelligence or bent toward academia. “What we want to have happen here is that actual ideas of people no matter what their gender, racial, national, or sexual preference is heard and taken seriously,” said Rosenfelt.
Must read: “Further Materials Toward a Theory of the Man-Child” by Moira Weigel and Mal Ahern. Its theory that male intellectuals come from the same sexist man-child roots as their obviously douchey counterparts blew up the internet.
Founded in: 2012
Run by: Editor-in-Chief Uzoamaka Maduka (founded with editor Jac Mullen)
Old-world counterpart: The Paris Review
Subscription cost: $39.99/year
What’s the deal: It’s the most highbrow of the young magazines. Its launch was covered extensively for such a young publication, due in large part to fascination with the charismatic Maduka. Art dealer Larry Gagosian and Paris Review financier Scott Asen were rumored to be funding the publication when it first launched (though Maduka has denied it). “I think people are comfortable being it with a story of personality rather than quality,” she said. “But we’ve come this far because of what we print and how we print it.”
Must read: “Henrytown” by Chris Erickson — a serialized novel published in the first three issues that would not be out of place on a Princeton syllabus.
Founded in: August 2012 on web, first issue of the print magazine in November 2013.
Run by: Editor-in-Chief Christopher Frey
Old-world counterpart: Tin House
Subscription cost: $9.99/month
What’s the deal: Started by Random House of Canada as part of a digital-only initiative, Hazlitt uses its big roots well. The publication’s first issue featured a formerly out-of-print article by Christopher Hitchens on Andy Warhol alongside great articles like Emily Landau’s assessment of Christopher Hitches and David Rakoff’s writings on death and New Inquiry contributing editor Sarah Nicole Prickett’s measured take of her ambivalence toward parenthood. The magazine works in tandem with an e-book publishing house. The Atlantic Wire described it as “quality content, a trend we applaud.”
Must read: “How to Succeed in Journalism When You Can’t Afford an Internship” by Alexandra Kimball, an essay about an industry in transition. Kimball skillfully assesses the awkwardness and privilege that comes with being a paid writer.
4. Worn Journal
Editors: “Editor-in-Pants” Serah-Marie McMahon
Old-world counterpart: Vogue
Subscription cost: $12/month
What’s the deal: It’s a small magazine about fashion that features long reads like an insanely detailed history of mannequins and a wonky study of the relationship between color and gender. The magazine is full of editorial spreads, cultural criticism, and personal essays. This spring, the first 16 issues will be published in a 500-page anthology.
Must read: “The holes in Kennedy’s clothes didn’t quite match up with each other, which seemed suspicious until photos were produced that showed the president rode with the back of his jacket slightly bunched up below the neck. A detail of Connally’s clothing actually helped pinpoint the exact moment at which he and Kennedy were hit.” —from Robert Everett-Green’s “Examining the Menswear of the JFK Assassination.”
Founded: October 2013
Editors: Jane Friedman and Manjula Martin
Old-world counterpart: Granta
Subscription cost: $20/year
What’s the deal: It’s a magazine all about the economics of being a writer. Friedman says that all writers should be “asking for more,” no matter their gender. Their second issue featured exclusively female contributors.
Must read: “Hunger” by Rachael Maddux. “Hunger is everything because it’s nothing — not yet — just raw need, if not raw promise. Hunger will take you far, over the bodies of the frightened and dull and more easily sated. Like a shark, the hungry must keep moving, hunting, killing, ‘killing it.’ Nothing is more noble than being young, except maybe being young and hungry.”
Founded In: 1954
Old-world counterpart: Dissent
Subscription cost: $20/year
Editors: Michael Kazin
What’s the deal: Sure, Dissent is the same magazine your grandfather might have read, but it’s recently been given a youthful overhaul, much to the credit of recently departed editor Sarah Leonard. Nine of Dissent’s top 10 most-read articles of 2013 were written by women, six of which were from its winter 2013 issue dedicated to “new feminism.”
Must read: Former Facebook employee Kate Losse’s takedown of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, called “Feminism’s Tipping Point: Who Wins from Leaning In,” was one of Dissent’s most-read pieces of the year after being shared widely. In the piece, Losse writes: “The faster my career accelerated at Facebook, the more my financial returns diminished, until my workload was being elevated but not my salary or equity. Leaning in, then, starts to look like it can benefit companies more than it benefits workers, if companies, while asking that their women employees ‘lean in,’ refuse to commit to equitable pay.”