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  • When a Glorious Past May Also Be a Burden
  • David H. Lynn

For many years any description or overview of the Kenyon Review has begun, understandably enough, at the beginning. In 1939, so the story goes, John Crowe Ransom, a noted poet and critic, enticed by Kenyon College from his post at Vanderbilt, launched a new literary journal. During the 1940s and '50s it rightly remained one of the most lauded publications in the land. But the 1960s witnessed turmoil and profound change in the literary landscape, as well as elsewhere, and in 1969 the college, desperately short of cash, shuttered KR's transom for a full decade.

Though it's hard to believe, 2019 will be not only the eightieth anniversary of KR's initial publication, but the fortieth anniversary of its revival under the leadership of Ronald Sharp and Frederick Turner—a longer run by a full decade than the Old Series. It's a proud history and an incredible archive, which I value deeply and honor often.

And yet. It is not uncommon when I am speaking publicly about the Kenyon Review that older folk call to mind the glory of a vanished era, while younger writers and readers assume that we can have little interest in them or relevance to their lives. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course, but it's wearying to fight against the heavy tides of such preconceptions over and over again.

I have no intention of rewriting history or of renouncing Mr. Ransom's legacy. The glory was real, and the achievement wonderfully substantial. But the world has changed, and we have changed. From now on that's not where we will begin the conversation about the Kenyon Review. It's what we're doing now that will be our focus, as well as what we aspire to in the future. [End Page 1]

Over the past twenty-five years we have worked hard to publish a broad swathe of authors of superb caliber who also better reflect the complexities of American society. Last year, for example, we published more women than men, and we are committed to maintaining that balance as closely as possible. Likewise, we are striving to identify, recruit, and publish many more authors of color. (Such goals do not affect our evaluation of submissions, and often a writer's gender or identity may be impossible to know.) Magazines like ours have long believed an open submissions period is the most fair and democratic way to hear from new voices. But over the last eighty years, many writers we'd like to publish haven't had the time, funds, or institutional support to submit to magazines like the Review. Our staff is in conversation about the best way to connect to the writers who have been underrepresented in literature and our own magazine and how we can better support them in our pages and in our programs.

Perhaps even more striking has been the expansion of the Kenyon Review writing workshops for high school students and adults. Since these programs have become more central to our mission, the numbers and diversity of faculty and participants have continued to climb. KR Young Writers, for example, flooded with applications, grows more selective each year. The students who come to Gambier from across the nation and around the world are tremendously talented—working with them is one of the great joys of my life. This past summer more than half, split across two full sessions, identified themselves as nonwhite.

We also launched a pilot program of Young Science Writers, developed and taught by two professors of biology at Kenyon College and distinguished writers themselves. The students did real scientific work in laboratories, as well as streams and fields, and used an observatory to study the stars. Their writing about the experiences ranged far and wide—we look for that program to grow quickly as well.

And this year the writers workshops for adults boldly expanded beyond traditional genres of fiction, literary nonfiction, and poetry, as well as our first workshop for translators, a workshop in nature writing, and one geared toward high school teachers that we have offered in...


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