March’s Lit Mag Spotlight shines brightly on New Letters, the incredible journal of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Since 1934 (!), editors of this top-notch publication have sought both new and famous writers to adorn the prestigious pages. Read about a recent submission that made them do a double-take and what makes their journal especially interesting. Enjoy the interview!
CONTEST: Leave a comment on this blog post by April 3 to enter to win a one-year subscription to New Letters AND a New Letters cap, proudly worn by some of the best writers in the country (choose red or black, as pictured at the bottom of the post). But that’s not all! If readers call New Letters at (816) 235-1168 and mention the Lit Mag Spotlight, they’ll be happy to offer a two-year subscription for $12 off. That would be eight issues of New Letters for only $24 (normally $36)! Generous! This contest is now closed. Congratulations to our winner Yvonne, and thanks to all who participated!
Let the interview begin…
Give us the lowdown on your journal’s mission.
Any magazine’s mission is to discover new writing; New Letters also intends to advance literary art itself. We make some noise about famous writers who appear in our pages, but our deeper satisfaction comes in promoting the work of exciting new writers.
Describe your ideal submission in 15 words or less.
It should be like nothing we have ever seen before.
Tell us about a piece you recently published that got the staff really excited. Why did you love it? Why did it strike a chord?
A memoir, “Born Again and Again,” by Joe Miller continues to fascinate our staff, especially the student interns—partly because Miller entirely exposes his failures as a sex-obsessed drunk in search of true spirituality. And the students also like it for its fresh, entirely unprecedented imagery.
Regarding submissions: What’s the most common turnoff that you encounter (in terms of craft)?
I mention two: I notice a growing tendency among fiction writers to explain the motives and thoughts of their characters, rather than just let the characters speak and act. Second, I have little tolerance, as an editor, for conventional language. Some conventional phrases are clichés (stars in his eyes, shouldered a heavy load, etc.) and some phrases are merely overused (an uncertain relationship… in truth, etc.). In my mind, literature demands the fresh use of conventions and diction.
What’s the most common oversight (in terms of submission guidelines)?
Writers generally handle submission guidelines well. We have a wide tolerance here for the little goofs, such as addressing me by the name of an editor at another magazine, or cover letters that explain the theme of the attached story. We invite writers to send their work, and we rejoice in all submissions.
Why is your journal awesome?
Ultimately, what matters is the freshness, complexity, and energy of the writing itself, which I think represents New Letters well. We dislike writing that is all “style” with little spiritual depth. New Letters readers continually tell us that they find in these pages the kind of writing they don’t expect in a literary journal. We excel here in variety—interviews, memoirs, essays about literature or global torture, for example, formal poems and experimental poems, book reviews, visual art, and on and on. Variety and surprise, to me, make an exciting magazine. Pulitzer Prize-winning writers alongside entirely new voices.
Where can readers find your submission guidelines?
On our website!
Freeform. What else would you like to say?
I edit a literary magazine; I write for literary magazines; and I subscribe to literary magazines. We are lucky to live in a time of amazing vitality in the literary world, both online and in print. That said, I want to stand up for the special aesthetic pleasure of a well-made and designed print journal. We at New Letters try to compose not only the contents for a rich art experience, but also to complement that with quality production. That means page layout, typography, paper quality, color art. Those are some of the reasons many of us fell in love with editing and publishing in the first place. Enjoy the art of book-making as part of your reading.