What’s New England about New England Review?
We’re pleased to have a guest post, originally published as the “Editor’s Note,” from Carolyn Kuebler, Editor of New England Review.
What’s New England about New England Review? people often ask us, and writers regularly mention in their cover letters that their writing has some kind of New England connection, guessing that this will make it a better candidate for publication. My first instinct is to say, nothing, NER has nothing at all to do with New England, and we’re no more dedicated to the glories of autumn foliage, Robert Frost’s many cabins, or the vestiges of Puritanism than the next journal. We are as much about New England as the Paris Review is about Paris, Gettysburg Review is about the famous Civil War battle, or Tin House is about the Victorian house with corrugated zinc siding where its office is located.
But at closer look, this claim is not entirely true. It turns out that our founders did have New England’s literary well-being in mind when they named the magazine. The South had its regionally proud magazines in Georgia Review and Southern Review, and the editors thought, in 1978, that it was time New England had one too. In the first issue, they remarked: “We cannot, strictly, be called a regional magazine; but New England is our home, and we expect to print a good deal of writing on New England themes by local writers. Any concern about our provincialism should be dispelled by the contents of this first issue.” Which was true: its decidedly not-provincial lineup included new translations of Pablo Neruda, poems by Seamus Heaney, and writers from Scotland, Kentucky, and the UK, alongside a strong group of New Englanders.
Nearly forty years later, New England is still NER’s home. For most of that time we’ve been published by Middlebury College, which is unmistakably located in the Green Mountain state. The bulk of our small staff is here, we have an office here, and sometimes our editors and writers eat pizza together here. Vermont has more NER subscribers per capita than any other state (never mind that we don’t have much capita), and we host a Vermont Reading Series which brings writers from all over the state and beyond to our town. In these ways we are rooted, we are local, and we are New England.
But even physical location, the idea of a magazine’s “home,” is more complicated than it once was. While Middlebury College is best known for its picturesque campus in Vermont, it also has a campus in Monterey, California, and seventeen schools abroad—in China, Jordan, Brazil, France, Israel, etc. And while NER’s mother ship is in Vermont, our poetry editor lives in Tacoma, Washington, and our nonfiction editor is in Washington, DC. We have an international correspondent in Paris and Berlin, our staff readers are spread out across the country, and our authors live in Brussels, Sioux Falls, Cleveland, New York, Martinique, the Dominican Republic—and that’s in this issue alone. In turn, we have subscribers in all fifty states and in twenty countries.
Add to that complication of physical location the fact of the internet—online submissions and online friendships—and you have a review whose New England mailing address has less and less to do with its content. Which really isn’t as great a change from 1978 as it might seem. Literature has always been the most portable of the arts; even before the internet there was the USPS, delivering words around the world. So even though NER set out to publish “a good deal of writing on New England themes by local writers,” it never quite established a reputation for being a journal by and about New Englanders.
So maybe my first answer is correct after all: NER has nothing to do with New England. But neither are our editors on both coasts opposed to writing with a New England slant. This issue features the poem “Thoreau and the Wild Grapes” (by a writer residing in Washington state, however) and fiction by a Vermont writer. It also spends some time in Hartford, Connecticut, tracing the daily commute of Wallace Stevens.
New England Review is closing in on forty years of publication, and in the world of lit mags that’s a pretty long time. It would be great to be young and have a stylish name, preferably monosyllabic and without the word “Review” attached, but there are benefits to being of a certain age and to having a plain old Yankee name as well. Just as it’s nice sometimes to use the label “made in Vermont,” it’s also important and necessary that the writing we read and publish be of the world and without geographical limitations.
Re-published from the “Editors Note,” Volume 37, no. 1, 2016. Copyright © 2016 Middlebury College Publications.