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Silver While visiting Columbia, Missouri, this year Wally Lamb was talking with an audience about the nature of literary success. He told about something that had happened to him while he was on a promotional tour for his second novel, I Know This Much Is True. In a hotel room he turned on the television and Jeopardy! was on. As soon as the picture came up, the question put to the panelists was "He wrote the novel She's Come Undone." She's Come Undone, Lamb's first novel, had earned a reputation as being the most beloved of Oprah's picks, remaining at the top of the best-seller list virtually forever. His second novel was an Oprah pick as well and at the moment was on its way to the top. Wally was about as successful and "current" as a writer can be. Nonetheless, the threeJeopardy! contestants were coming up blank, so there the author sat, on the edge of the bed, saying, "Who is Wally Lamb? Who is Wally Lamb?" to the television. So much for literary fame. I shouldn't be thinking about such things on the silver anniversary of The Missouri Review. But it is a fact that except in limited groups, literature is not a form of social currency. Few people care about reading a standard body of authors or being up-to-date on newly published books. Even many college students, who are supposed to be in a phase of intensive reading, will blandly admit to not having read Huckleberry Finn or Hamlet or anything at all by William Faulkner or Jane Austen or one of the Brontes or whomever else you may hope or assume they've read. The names of such authors as Emily Dickinson or John Donne may be met with complete bafflement . Writers of the recent past, like Saul Bellow, seem to be passing so quickly into shades that it would make James Joyce's head spin. This results in the "movie effect" in college classrooms, whereby professors feel compelled to refer to movies to establish a point of reference. I mention this without rancorbecause I've grown used to it and because I know that for as long as art has existed, young people and many artists have been thumbing their noses at the standard cultural currency of their day. Young people can be rebellious, of course, but they can also be uncommunicative when they do care about something, especially when they care a great deal. In his new memoir, Youth, South African author J. M. Coetzee depicts himself as such a person when he was in his early twenties—melancholy, secretly trying to write poetry, devouring literary magazines and every book he could lay hands on by the authors he fell in love with, such as Ford Madox Ford and Ezra Pound. In the university classes that I teach, there are often one or two students who are serious about literature in a similar way, who actually have read a lot but for whatever reason aren't disposed to talk much about it, whether because they are too shy or too aware of what they don't know or—bless them—because they are lost in that fatal, secret love affair that might lead them into becoming writers. Regarding the issue of the beleaguered cultural canon of books, however , I must admit that as a literary-magazine editor I have done my own small part to ignore accepted authors and big names, at least among contemporary writers. In my view, magazines like The Missouri Review need a clear editorial mission, and ours has always been to publish out- standing literary work, regardless of an author's identity and current reputation. We have published construction workers and college students and at least one street person, alongside the well paid and the highly noted. One day recently TMR staff members went surfing together through the full bibliography of our contents, which is available on our website . Greg Michalson, our former managing editor, had stopped by with a new stack of the books he's editing for his imprint at Blue Hen/Penguin, including a new novel called The Metal...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 5-10
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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