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  • Modernism and the Magazines:North America
  • Christopher MacGowan
The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines: Volume II, North America: 1894–1960. Peter Brooker and Andrew Thacker, eds. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. Pp. xxii + 1088. $250.00 (cloth).

This massive and informative volume, consisting of 1024 pages of essays plus another 60 pages of bibliography and index, is the second of three devoted to the important role of magazines in the history of modernism. Volume I (2009) covers Britain and Ireland (1880–1955), and Volume III (2013) spans Europe (1880–1940). Volume II covers the magazines published in English in the United States and Canada, as well as the expatriate magazines—mainly from the 1920s—published by American editors in Europe. The volume builds upon the editors’ own online work on the Modernist Magazines Project and provides a valuable addition to the Modernist Journals Project, run by Brown University and the University of Tulsa. As a number of essays in the volume acknowledge, important pioneer work in this field was undertaken by Frederick J. Hoffman, Charles Allen, and Carolyn F. Ulrich in 1946, as well as, more recently, by Suzanne W. Churchill and Adam McKible in their Little Magazines and Modernism: New Approaches (2007).1 Churchill herself (along with Ethan Jaffee), contributes to the current volume with a fine essay on the editorial work of Alfred Kreymborg and Stanley Braithwaite.

An international group of forty-four contributors, including the editors, provide the essays. The arrangement is broadly chronological, although the chronology is set against a three-part thematic and geographical schema: “Tradition and Experiment,” “The Metropolis, Regionalism, and Nation,” and “Radical Voices”; each of these three areas is broken down further into smaller sections introduced by one of the editors. For example, “Radical Voices” is subdivided into “The Harlem Renaissance,” “A Revolutionary Message” (which covers the 1930s, The Masses, New Masses, Partisan Review and many other magazines), “The [End Page 843] Critical 1940s,” and “In the Modernist Grain,” which takes up the Beats, Black Mountain, and the New York Poets. This arrangement is at one with the volume’s aim to complicate, disrupt and fill out some of the more familiar patterns in the histories of modernism. Thus we are invited to consider The Crisis early in the volume, while The Messenger, Opportunity, Fire!!, and Harlem appear some 650 pages later.

While individual essays vary in the degree to which they focus on particular details, each one goes into the important elements that make up the look, the progress, and the policies of the different magazines. A good deal of attention goes to the individual editor or editors of course, but there are also careful descriptions of physical format: paper, colors, design, layout, binding, and font. Other features scrutinized in the volume include marketing details, such as target audience, advertising, sources of funding (e.g. cover price, patronage, internal advertising), and circulation figures, as well as whether the magazine paid its contributors and why it eventually ceased publication, as almost all of them did. Rare were such successes as Poetry, which persevered thanks to Harriet Monroe’s model of recruiting a hundred guarantors for the magazine’s first five years and its $200-million gift from Ruth Lilly in 2003, or as the good fortune of The Texas Review, whose funder, The University of Texas, discovered oil on the university lands in 1923.

The volume carries over 150 illustrations, most of them of magazine covers but also including some examples of advertising, and two cartoons. The typography and design of the covers in themselves provide a lesson in the shifting ideas of the modern (regrettably none are in color). Few magazines had sufficiently large subscription lists that they did not need to catch the eyes of browsers at such friendly outlets as The Washington Square Bookshop, Brentano’s, or Shakespeare and Company.

A number of essays focus on neglected editors whose work clearly deserves to be better known. Alfred Kreymborg’s involvement in The Glebe, Others, and Broom is important but relatively well documented, as is Harriet Monroe’s role in Poetry. Such editors as Margaret Anderson, W. E. B. Du Bois, Gorham Munson, Robert Creeley, Cid Corman...


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pp. 843-849
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