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The Affair: Twenty-five Years of The Missouri Review This summer on a subway, I saw two lovers. They appeared to be in their late teens. It was a little after seven in the morning, and with only a few people in our car they were the center of attention, necking, holding hands, luxuriating in each other. They reminded me of the way lovers create their own world. Perhaps because Td already been thinking about this magazine on its silver anniversary, they also took me back to the early days of The Missouri Reviexa TMR was born in 1978, partly out of a romance. The magazine's founders , Marcia Southwick and Larry Levis, were poets at the University of Missouri and much in love at the time. Somewhere in the fever of their relationship came the idea, more Marcia's than Larry's (according to his typically candid confession to me some years later)—of The Missouri Review. This was the aftermath of the sixties, a time when there is a black hole in my own otherwise detailed diary, and I remember only the basic facts. I was a fiction writer and literature professor. If love and work are two great options in life, I had embarked on a path of work almost to the point of making it my exclusive pursuit. A collection of my stories was published in 1976, but Td piled up three novel manuscripts over seven or eight years, none of which had been published. The third one had taken me three years to finish, and when it was rejected I vowed to either publish the next one or find a new job. The period leading up to the first issue of The Missouri Reviezv was such a daze of work that my principal memory is of sitting in my cramped, makeshift office at the back of the bungalow I shared with my former wife. Although I remember intimately the rattle oftheportablecoilheater in that office on winter nights, and the drunk and hungry howls coming from the nearby Fiji parking lot, I recall little about the decisions leading up to the magazine's founding. I was finally getting my wish and publishing a first novel the same year we started the magazine—in 1978. I genuinely liked Larry and Marcia, although they occasionallyhad the effect of reminding me of what I was missing. Marcia was (and still is) sunny, cheerful, vivacious and—in the best sense of the term—wonderfully normal. She is also a fine poet. Larry was charming but not much of a talker. His typical reply to a question was, "Gee, don't know." There is a trend today toward professional poets trying to become entertainers, doing timed routines of amusing stories, jokes and poems at readings, as if to coddle an audience into feeling that readings can befun. Their poems are too often a bland recipe of two cups of irony and two cups of sentiment, carefully measured. Larry was anything but a performer. At readings he would simply walk up to the lectern in his shabby blue jeans and break your heart with his melancholy, ethereal poetry. Likealotofromances, thisthingthathadbegun as alarkwasbecoming a commitment. Too soon, Larry and Marcia moved away, leaving the magazine with the rest ofus who'd been reading manuscripts. I became editor because no one else would do it. Our greatest challenge in those early years was finding enough good writing, and I soon had my first experiences in the discomfiture of having to reject solicited writing, as well as the maddening uncertainties of editing, where caring about something may conflict with getting the job done. On one occasion, in 1980, 1 solicited stories from Ray Carver. He had attended Stanford's writing program and was still living nearby when I went to school there. Carver was in that blessed, gentle phase of his life, three years after he'd stopped drinking and about seven years from his fatal diagnosis of lung cancer. He responded to my call by sending us three stories. After reading them, I called him back and accepted two of them but said that the third one didn't interest me. That was great...


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pp. 77-108
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