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The Reviews

Canteen Circulation: 4,500 Date of Birth: 2007 Frequency: Biannual Price: $10 Natural Habitat: An aspiring writer’s Bohemian apartment in San Francisco or Brooklyn

By Kathryn McGarr Canteen is a literary magazine that was born in a restaurant. It is small and square. It carries a $10 price tag. Nobody on the staff receives a salary, and none of its contributors are compensated.  And it is printed in Iceland.  “This is sort of exactly what I envisioned,” says its publisher and co-founder, Stephen Pierson. And, somehow, it seems to work. The publisher says his premise was that literary magazines were dull, and he wanted to add value to the words. Thanks to the money he made playing online poker, Pierson, now 33,  was able to translate his vision into a biannual  (subtitled “The State of Creation”) that is printed on thick, matte paper with rich color—and without any ads. There are poems and short stories, of course, and photography and art portfolios, but the best features of Canteen are the essays that offer humorous or honest glimpses into the writer’s life, on the assumption that the people who read literary magazines are writers who want to be published in them.   In the third issue, the young novelist Porochista Khakpour describes being down, out and “NYTBR-approved.”  In the fourth and most recent issue, Eric Puchner’s essay, “I Married a Novelist,” is liberally footnoted by his wife, Katharine Noel.  “People are interested in memoir and backstory,” the managing editor, Mia Lipman says by phone, “and why I paint or write, and how I draw.” In fact, issue four includes that exact essay: “Why I Write,” by Stephen Elliot.  This may seem like a gimmick that will soon wear thin, but Elliot’s essay is unique to his experience, just as Joyce Maynard’s “The Story-Telling Life” (in the second issue) is to hers, and so the pieces feel fresh and not at all redundant. 

While the essays are almost always worthwhile, the quality of the creative work can be erratic, especially the photographs. The poems and short stories, however, are professional, even as they increasingly come from unsolicited submissions—work from the “slush pile,”—which gives Canteen the added value of letting its readers imagine, “I could be published in this.” Still, much like the Norwood Club in Manhattan, where I interviewed Stephen Pierson, Canteen can seem exclusive. You can only buy it in New York City, the San Francisco Bay Area, or Rio de Janeiro (Pierson happened to travel to Brazil and brought along some boxes to a bookstore). You can’t find all the content online, either. The website provides only skeletal versions of the print edition. “We wanted to do something with lots of white space and art, that didn’t seem laborious to read,” Pierson says. “It’s hard to replicate that on the Web.” Canteen was born at the restaurant of the same name in San Francisco, where chef Dennis Leary hosted literary salons. The magazine was the brainchild of Pierson and Sean Finney, Canteen’s editor-in-chief.   Finney says by phone that the relationship with the restaurant is “just a nominal connection,” adding, “I don’t know, we could say it’s a spiritual connection.” Within the last few months, Canteen has gained nonprofit status, and the publisher now runs an afterschool program in Harlem for seventh-graders, who will produce canTeen magazine.  Canteen is a completely voluntary operation. As compensation, a contributor receives three advanced copies of the issue in which his work appears. (Full disclosure: In early 2008, I volunteered to read submissions for the magazine.) The editors, all unsalaried, have jobs in the publishing industry.  They initially relied on friends to connect them to authors, and to a certain extent they still do. But now that they have published the work of such wellknown writers as Maynard, Po Bronson, and Benjamin Kunkel, future contributors may be easier to find, even though they will not be paid. In spite of its youth, Canteen has experienced few growing pains. They switched to a less expensive printer in Iceland (from Connecticut), and Pierson now spends a lot of his time fundraising, since he realized he could no longer single-handedly

bankroll the magazine. Also, a new artistic director was brought in for the fourth issue, a woman who Lipman thought gave a more “female” look to the magazine—although that may be more evident to her than it is to her readers. The structure and overall feel of the magazine have remained consistent, perhaps a result of Pierson’s strong idea of what he wanted. He thinks the magazine could live on without him, but for now, he’s committed to its future. “I would refuse to step back,” he says, when asked if he has any plans to stop supporting Canteen. “It’s my little baby.” In These Times Circulation: 20,000 Date of Birth: 1976 Frequency: Monthly Price: $3.50 Natural Habitat: Next to your union membership card and The Communist Manifesto, or strategically placed on your well-meaning Lefty neighbor’s kitchen table

By Elizabeth Henderson When James Weinstein founded In These Times, he hoped that the then-weekly newspaper would serve as a beacon for the expanding Left. In the tradition of the defunct socialist journal, Appeal to Reason (during its heyday in 1912, it boasted 750,000 subscribers and published authors like Mother Jones and Upton Sinclair), Weinstein wanted to “create a magazine that was independent but would serve as a source of information and education for the movement’s popular constituency,” the editor recalled before his death in 2005. In These Times comes from a lineage of magazines pioneered by Weinstein, and this was the third incarnation of his attempt to give the left a secure spot at the media round table. His first venture, in 1959, was Studies on the Left, which folded in 1967. Weinstein’s second effort, the journal Socialist Review (originally Socialist Revolution), began in 1969. However, Weinstein’s time at the Socialist Review was NYRM

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4/27/09 2:24:22 PM

The Reviews  

Reviews of 16 magazines, from obscure niche publications to national celebrity news sources

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