Find inspiration in an extinct publication

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The literary magazine business is tough, hard as a winter sandstorm in Iraq. Lit mags come and go, and most of them survive on the grants and support of patrons, universities, philanthropy.

There are commercial exceptions, but not many. One of my favorites for many years was Story, the quarterly published by the F&W Publications juggernaut which makes a tidy business out of teaching writers and artists, on the pages of Writer’s Digest and the like.

Story didn’t survive, but F&W did its best. The lit mag printed 50,000 copies an issue for more than 10 years. That’s a bonus for a writer to dig up. Story focused on short stories, written by authors both famous, emerging and brand-new.

It had a long history and was revived several times. Story first went to press in 1931, publishing Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, Joseph Heller, J. D. Salinger, Tennessee Williams. Then it went dark in the late 1960s, but came back with broader circulation than ever. From the files of Princeton, where the Story archives reside:

After a twenty-year hiatus, Story was revived as a quarterly magazine by publisher Richard Rosenthal and editor Lois Rosenthal, a husband and wife team. Story was a five-time finalist and two-time winner of the National Magazine Award for fiction, and had a circulation of over 40,000 subscribers.

The Rosenthals carried on the Story tradition of publishing a mix of well-known authors, such as Andrea Barrett, Barry Lopez, Joyce Carol Oates, and Carol Shields, and new authors, such as Junot Díaz, Elizabeth Graver, and Abraham Rodriguez. In late 1999, owing to the impending sale of F & W Publications, the Rosenthals made the decision to end their stewardship of Story with the publication of a final Winter 2000 issue.

I subscribed to Story for years until it became extinct again. Then I went out to the used bookstores looking for copies of that 10-year run that I didn’t already have. They’re out there, with numbers like Spring 1997 featuring a six-page piece by Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club, Choke) called “Survivor.” Fun to see Palahniuk in the short form.

Aside from inspiration, Story can help research writing seminars, too. Autumn 1997 includes a story from Emily Carter, an instructor at this summer’s Writer’s League of Texas Summer Writing Academy in Alpine.

Carter is teaching five days of Inside You – Outside Them; A Myers-Briggs Approach To Writing. I wanted to read her writing as a way of deciding whether to enroll in her class, or another offered at the WLT event. Sure enough, there was the copy of Story up on my shelf, with her story.

You can hunt down your own copies if your neighborhood or town has a decent used bookstore. That’s the benefit of printing a 200,000 lit mag issues every year for a decade: there’s maybe a million of them still out there, ready to teach.

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