September 2005 marks the second anniversary of Narrative and a year in which the magazine has grown considerably, thanks to the writers, readers, friends, and patrons who are part of the magazine. What began two years ago with the efforts of a few has been taken up around the world by believers in good writing, and Narrative, so recently a dream, is becoming a nonprofit public arts venture with broad-based support. There is much work still to do.
A recent article in the New York Times Book Review reiterated many of the developments we’ve mentioned in previous Editors’ Notes regarding the state of literary publishing. To wit, the end of regular fiction appearing in The Atlantic, the trend away from fiction in The Paris Review, the decline of Esquire as a literary periodical, and the general loss of interest in literary work among both book and magazine publishers. The Book Review article struck us as important in that it matter-of-factly accepted the diminishment of fiction, while in the end holding out a twitch of hope that things might improve at some point decades in the future.
We think, however, that the news reported in the Book Review, and elsewhere, indicates how much the contemporary imagination has moved to digital media as the means of communication and creativity. The article also suggests that conventional publishing concerns, while trying to develop new profit models, have not quite grasped the good news. Fiction and literary publishing aren’t dead at all; they’re just expanding into new media. The digital age offers great opportunities for literary writers. And Narrative is committed to helping bring form and content to those opportunities.
In the coming year, Narrative readers will receive announcements about new features in the magazine, such as more space for long works and serializations of books; invitations to readings and celebrations honoring well-known writers and Narrative Prize winners; information about technology updates, making the magazine easier to enter and enjoy; and, of course, news about upcoming issues featuring great works.
In our current issue, we’re extremely pleased to present an excerpt from E. L. Doctorow’s masterly new novel, The March, which is set during the Civil War and follows diverse characters—a freed slave on the cusp of womanhood, two conniving Confederate deserters, a Union surgeon, and the southern judge’s daughter who falls in love with and follows the surgeon—in the course of Sherman’s march through Georgia. The implosive general himself is a constant character; and Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd, William Seward, Robert E. Lee, and other notables play out on Doctorow’s stage, as he carries us through the final turmoil of the war and what it wrought of new life for the nation.
And following on last issue’s presentation of Ann Beattie’s story “Just Going Out,” we’re delighted to offer another new Beattie story, “The Rock.” The title refers to Key West, where Beattie shows us a community of tentatively moored adults—abandoned daughters, gay men, smugglers—the veneer of whose personas fragilely holds against eruptions of jealousy, greed, violence, and a sometimes harsh desire to belong where belonging is ambiguous and evanescent.
Two established writers, Debra Spark and Abby Frucht, are represented here with richly imaginative stories: in Spark’s “A Wedding Story,” a nursery school teacher finds love with the aid of a miniature rabbi who emerges, like a genie in a bottle, from a chocolate egg. In Abby Frucht’s “Rehearsals,” an ungainly, teenage ballet student’s imaginative perceptions and fantasies of the lives around her form the grace that moves another dancer, a runaway boy, toward his future.
Also in this issue, we’re proud to introduce three new writers, Sameer Pandya, Jeffrey Colvin, and Michael Wolff. Pandya’s first published story “Patrick Ewing’s Father” follows the fascinations of a young man new to Manhattan, where he looks at everyone and everything but himself, until he falls under the spell of a surprising passenger on the subway. Colvin’s story “Fathers and Sons,” set in rural Alabama, shows a dutiful grandson trying to find the beginning of a life for himself while trapped between his dependency on his ailing grandfather and the threat posed to his manhood by his father’s ambivalence and control. And Michael Wolff’s essay, “A Model Prisoner,” relates a sojourn in present-day Russia, where a camping trip brings the author afoul of border guards uneasy about terrorists.
Bill Barich’s new essay “True Believers,” continues his memoir, an earlier portion of which, titled “A Real Writer,” appeared in our last issue. Both pieces concern Barich’s beginnings as a writer in the late 1960s in San Francisco. In “True Believers,” the tenderness of his ambition unfolds against the indifference of the marketplace and the passionate, impractical camaraderie formed around a tiny poetry journal, whose publisher, a gifted typesetter, drove himself to ruin, from which Barich extracts genial myth and a lesson.
Our classic story in this issue is Gina Berriault’s “The Woman in the Rose-Colored Dress,” which does more in six short scenes across two and a half pages than many stories do in ten times that space. The drama is of a teenage girl adrift at a grown-up party, where she overhears a conversation that reveals the world as a place of secrets, betrayals, and desires whose promise cannot be denied or won.
The new Readers’ Narratives range from an account of the July 7 bombings in London to a report from a man competing with a wolf to score a goose dinner in the Arctic. And for First & Second Looks, we’ve collected a terrific set of not-to-be missed old and new titles.
As we write this note, New Orleans and the surrounding areas are coming to terms with the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. To everyone who loved New Orleans and to anyone who has never been there, we recommend reading “Oysters,” an essay by Roy Blount Jr., previously published in Narrative and available in our Archive. New Orleans, a homeland of evocation and song, has long captivated writers, and it will again. In this time of wretched transition, the right words are the pillars and beams of hope.
Thank you for joining us here. Our next issue will be out toward the end of December.
—Carol Edgarian and Tom Jenks