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American Periodicals: A Journal of History, Criticism, and Bibliography 15.1 (2005) 74-85
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The Cosmopolitan Midland1
Regionalism has had its share of manifestos and champions over the last hundred and a half years, among the most famous being Hamlin Garland and his 1894 Crumbling Idols, in which he rails against the Eastern aristocrats who dominated the literary world of the 1890s. "All over America, in towns and cities," he writes, there are readers and writers who possess "a more intimate knowledge of American life than the aristocrat who prides himself on never having been farther west than Buffalo."2 They will be left behind, Garland predicts, when the literary capital of the country shifts from Boston and New York to Chicago in response to readers' desire for full knowledge of their national life. "From your library, or car-window, you look upon our life," Garland chides the Eastern elite, "that is the extent of your knowledge of our conditions" (133). But it is not just the East that is a villain; he also scorns the academy for its inability to understand the real life of the real people of the real country. Readers "must be approached on the side of life, and not by way of the academic" (10), he counsels, for "[w]hen life is the model and truth the criterion . . . the central academy has small power" (120). Even the Western writer can be "blinded by his instruction" (12), he warns, and if not, academic instruction will not at any rate help him achieve greatness: "universities produce few of the great leaders of American thought" (131).
In the decades that followed, Garland's championing of regional culture and condemnation of the academy would be echoed by many, including the editors and contributors to the regional "little magazines" that began publishing in the 1910s through the 1930s—The Midland (1915–1933), Texas Review (1915–1924) which became Southwest Review (1924–) , The Frontier (1920–1939), The Fugitive [End Page 74] (1922–1925), Prairie Schooner (1927–) , New Mexico Quarterly Review (1931–1969), and The Southern Review (1935–) —all, ironically enough, based at universities. The Midland,the first and most important of these regional little magazines,was founded in 1915 by the then 21-year-old University of Iowa undergraduate John T. Frederick under the guidance and with the encouragement of his faculty mentor, Professor C.F. Ansley.3 These little magazines fostered a number of related regionalist movements, in literary-historical terms perhaps most importantly the Southern Agrarians, publishing regionalist pieces by regional and often regionalist authors, announcing themselves, as Garland had announced himself, the proper alternative to the hegemony of New York and Boston and the tyranny of the urban sensibility, and the authentic voice of the authentic Westerner, Southwesterner, Southerner, and Midwesterner.
Frederick in particular has since been seen as an important literary regionalist and radical, one who "blazed the trail for Midwestern little-magazine editors," who fought to "counterbalance the eastern bias in publishing," and who set about to "correct the stereotyping of the Midwest" with "a new note of social realism."4 In his first editorial, on the first page of the new journal, Frederick articulated his justification for regionalist little magazines. It reads like an apologetic, tentative recapitulation of Garland's call to arms:
Possibly the region between the mountains would gain in variety at least if it retained more of its makers of literature, music, pictures, and other expressions of civilization. And possibly civilization might be with us a somewhat swifter process if expression of its spirit were more frequent. Scotland is none the worse for Burns and Scott, none the worse that they did not move to London and interpret London themes for London publishers.5
Interestingly, every statement is qualified: possibly a gain, possibly somewhat swifter progress, or at least none the worse. In later issues Frederic would become slightly firmer, claiming that Midwestern writers, forced to deal with Eastern editors and publishers, tended to misrepresent their region: "A result has seemed to be a tendency to false emphasis, distortion...