Sometimes, the best ideas occur on fire escapes.
Uzoamaka Maduka and her boyfriend, Jac Mullen, were smoking on a freezing New York fire escape last February when they happened upon an idea: they'd start a literary magazine they actually wanted to read. They were frustrated about "the state of contemporary literature," and thought that writers weren't a part of society the way they had been in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. They felt that young people were talked down to by magazines -- that the values and interests of Generation Y were being largely mischaracterized.
"In reality, we are a deeply engaged, deeply interested group of people," says Maduka, a Princeton grad who is 24. "Because we are on Facebook or Tweeting doesn't mean we're not still interested in reading War and Peace -- and that we don't have the need for an edifying conversation about it."
They decided to fix the problem by launching a monthly literary magazine geared towards readers between the ages of 22 and 35 -- a magazine that would "reinvigorate the literary conversation and reintegrate it into the larger cultural conversation." It would consist of fiction, criticism, and poetry. They found investors and assembled a team -- now fifteen strong-- and on Tuesday, The American Reader launches online. It will come out in print (and in expanded online form) in early October.
Stephanie LaCava, a fashion writer and the author of the upcoming book An Extraordinary Theory of Objects: A Memoir of An Outsider in Paris is now its editor at large, and will be writing a column for The Reader's site, the first of which, she says, will be about car crashes. "There are so many fashion magazines, and design magazines, this is a different thing that's new to add to the mix," she says. "Something that really excited me was the emphasis on translation." Shala Monroque, a writer who has developed a following for impeccable sense of style, will serve as the magazine's creative consultant, and has a hand in the design of the publication.
The first issue will contain a mixture of fiction, poetry, and criticism, with Ben Marcus serving as its fiction editor and Dean Young as a regional editor. The Reader's site will introduce a few original posts each day that will allow people to continue the conversation of what's in the magazine, which will be sold at select bookstores and in subscription form.
"The print publication is the formal dinner party where you come to have a smart, interesting conversation," Maduka says. "Online, it will be the people who stay after the plates are taken away."