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An Interview with Chip McGrath / Bob Shacochis Chip McGrath is a Senior Editor at The New Yorker. Interviewer: Why were you initially reluctant to have your name used in this interview? McGrath: I didn't mean to be secretive about it. It's just that we work as a department here, and I was hoping that in some ways I might be able to speak for everyone—without singling myself out. Also, when an editor uses his or her name in an interview or article, that editor ends up being deluged with an impossible number of manuscripts. I guess I was trying to spare myself. Interviewer: Why has The New Yorker fiction department been so cloistered in the past? For self-protection, or something more? McGrath: Well, I don't think it really was, but I guess some people may have felt that way. It's an intimidating place, I think, for a lot of people. I can also imagine that some people, maybe around ten years ago, looked at the kind of fiction The New Yorker was publishing and perhaps it all seemed to be of a certain kind and they thought, Well, that's what The New Yorker wants. And so it seemed like we just weren't interested in publishing new writers. A lot of young writers in the sixties thought The New Yorker was inaccessible—they just couldn't get to it. And that simply wasn't true. The fiction department is constantly looking for new writers and new kinds of writing. The kind of fiction we've been publishing in the last six or seven years shows how much we're interested in diversity. Interviewer: What is that kind of fiction? I realize that anybody can judge for themselves by reading the magazine, but I'm interested in self-reflection, the magazine's self-image. McGrath: We don't reflect a whole lot on that kind of thing. For some time there's been a conscious effort here to have more different kinds of fiction, to have more young writers, to have more new writers. Beyond that, there's no corporate philosophy. We're still in some ways the victims, or the creatures, of what's submitted to us. You can't direct it, although sometimes you wish you could. You know, people theorize The Missouri Review · 101 and talk about quote "New Yorker stories." I don't think there's such a thing—I'm not sure there ever was—but if there was, it's something we don't want to publish now. You see it all the time, people make this or that generalization, but it always seems very lame to me whenever people try to lump New Yorker writers together. It doesn't quite work. You can say something about a couple, but when you try to knit together three or four, there's always somebody who just doesn't fit. It drives me crazy sometimes. You have people at cocktail parties saying "Oh I never read New Yorker fiction," and then they proceed to describe New Yorker fiction. Most often they describe something that doesn't exist. You can't categorize or summarize New Yorker fiction any more than you can any other magazine. What's Tri-Quarterly fiction? What's Antaeus fiction? Interviewer: Perhaps. But since you are a mass-market magazine and not a small literary journal, you are characterized by your many readers, the audience you have attracted by building an identity—and even by people who don't read The New Yorker, but respond to its reputation. McGrath: Yeah, I guess they do. We can't stop it. AU I can say is we try not to categorize ourselves. As I say, we have no aesthetic philosophy. There's no party line, except, I think, wanting to be surprised, and wanting to surprise our readers. If there's any bias here, it's toward the young, undiscovered writer. Interviewer: Well, what are the sensibilities that would be consistent throughout any given year, or era, at The New Yorker? McGrath: It's hard to say. It might be easier if I explain how we operate in practical...


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pp. 101-117
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