All around the world, independent literary magazines are helping readers to discover exciting new writers. But with so many to choose from, which ones should you seek out?
We’ve assembled the following list of 10 English-language literary magazines to shine a light on some of our favourites from across the UK, Ireland, the USA, Canada and Australia. And we’ve added some videos and audio too, to help them tell their stories in their own words…
The White Review (London)
Printed on lovely creamy paper and wrapped in a removable dust jacket that folds out into a poster-sized artwork, every issue of The White Review is crammed with quality storytelling and art from around the world. Now on its 16th quarterly issue, it carries itself with the sort of confidence that only comes from experienced editors who really know what they’re doing. Not like this lot…
Zoetrope (San Francisco)
Published by Francis Ford Coppola since 1997, Zoetrope was conceived by the filmmaker as a way to stimulate independent movie-making by providing writers with a platform for their short fiction and plays. In the years since then, Zoetrope has grown to become a publishing phenomenon in its own right, winning a string of literary awards and inviting a different guest art director to control the look and feel of every issue.
Artists like David Bowie, Wim Wenders and Tom Waits have taken their turn in the designer’s chair, while the writers have included the likes of Margaret Atwood and Woody Allen, mixed in alongside up and coming talent and making this into a really special magazine. Check the video below from this year’s QVED conference to see more detail from editor Michael Ray.
Little Brother (Toronto)
In many ways the opposite of Zoetrope, Little Brother is a small and unassuming literary magazine that builds each issue around a different theme. The most recent issue was devoted to snacks, and from that modest starting point it wove a series of memorable, personal stories, punctuated by just a couple of colour photo essays amidst the text.
There’s something zine-like about Little Brother, with its diminutive size and simple monochrome cover, and reading it feels sort of like discovering an insider secret. This one is well worth picking up if you can find a copy – take a look at the video below to see inside the current issue.
The Lifted Brow (Victoria)
Describing itself as an ‘attack journal from Australia and the world’, The Lifted Brow is a politicised, opinionated and impassioned piece of publishing that also manages to be fantastic fun. Mixing long-form fiction with essays, poetry, comics, micro-fiction and more, it specialises in ambitious and inventive storytelling, and I was very pleased to send it out as our Stack delivery at the start of this year. Take a look at the video below to see inside that issue.
Oxford American (Arkansas)
Founded in 1992 in Oxford, Mississippi, the Oxford American moved to Arkansas in the early 2000s but has stayed true to its original mission of publishing the best Southern writing. Incredibly atmospheric, its writing is built on the great tropes of the American South and you’ll find plenty of bourbon, molasses and Spanish moss within its pages. But this is the South as it’s seen by the people who live there, and reading it here in London feels thrillingly authentic, like peering through a portal into a familiar but totally alien world. Like an artist deciding to open a purse museum in Arkansas…
American Chordata (New York)
In comparison American Chordata feels far closer to home, but still fantastically exciting. This literary and arts magazine was launched last year in New York and made an immediate impact with its fresh, entertaining writing, winning Best Original Fiction at the first Stack Awards.
Mixing short stories and poetry with photography, there’s an element of serendipity to the magazine since pictures aren’t commissioned to run with specific stories, and instead the words and pictures are allowed to collide carefully on the page, each element helping to change the tone of the other. Founder and editor Ben Yarling made this video for our Printout literary special last year, explaining the magazine in more detail.
For Dublin-based Guts magazine, the secret of successful writing is a personal perspective. Each issue is built around a different theme, and contributors are asked to respond with a personal story, making for a kind of public confessional in print. The fifth issue launched a couple of weeks ago, built around the theme of ‘Do as I say, not as I do’, and investigating ideas of authority in the wake of the Irish general election earlier this year. Give this video two minutes of your day and you’ll see exactly what they’re all about.
The Wrong Quarterly (London)
An experimental piece of publishing, The Wrong Quarterly presents its cross-genre fiction completely unadorned, set in a simple, perfect bound format with no photography, illustration or anything else to adulterate the words – the cover has just a stylised numeral for the issue number and there isn’t even an editor’s letter to direct the reader. In such stark surroundings the experience is all about the reading, and I’ve loved discovering the literary gems tucked within its pages.
A feminist literary magazine, Hotdog mixes short fiction and poetry with author interviews that get under the skin of why people write (and why they read). This is literary publishing in response to the mainstream, a magazine made by people who feel they don’t fit within the literary establishment and aimed at an audience that feels similarly underrepresented.
Printed on newsprint, which makes it feel immediately rougher and less finessed than most of the other magazines here, it wears its outsider status on its sleeve and shows that a literary magazine doesn’t need to be finessed to be meaningful. Jump to 15:42 in the audio below to hear Molly and Megan present Hotdog in their own words at our Printout event on women’s magazines earlier this year.
Another piece of outsider publishing, Funhouse magazine launched last year as a visceral exploration of the body through art and literature. Focusing on work by a new generation of writers, editor Oliver Zarandi explained that, “lots of them haven’t read the classics, because they don’t give a shit. They’ve been reading blogs and all kinds of stuff online, and writing poems about blurry images in Google picture search. I think it’s really interesting!” The second issue is due out soon, and I’m looking forward to seeing how he builds on last year’s strong launch.
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