by Kevin Cummings, Messenger Staff Writer
The Sewanee Review has published one issue, four times each year, for 125 years, and with this fall’s issue, the nation’s longest running quarterly literary magazine, rolled out its 500th edition.
To commemorate the milestone, the Review will host a public reception on Oct. 26 at Convocation Hall featuring a reading by fiction writer Ben Fountain, a National Book Award finalist and National Book Critics Circle Award winner. The event starts at 8 p.m. and will also boast readings by authors Sidik Fofana, Justin Taylor and Elizabeth Weld, in addition to Sewanee faculty and staff.
“The 500th reading is a great chance for people to hear not only an interesting mix of writers, but also, Ben Fountain; he’s a big deal,” said Review editor Adam Ross. “We’re lucky he’s coming.”
Starting in early 2017, The Sewanee Review launched a new design and altered its direction under the leadership of Ross, a novelist and former journalist in Nashville. The revamp garnered fresh attention for a literary magazine that some saw as waning and a June article in The New York Times, “New Life for a 125-Year-Old Literary Journal,” gave the Review a significant boost in subscriptions and public interest.
“The New York Times article had an instrumental impact on us,” Ross said. “In terms of subscriptions it was bar none.”
The publicist for best-selling novelist James Patterson contacted the Review the day the article came out and Patterson made a sizeable donation to the Review, a practice the author is known for to promote reading.
Review managing editor Alec Hill added that because of the publicity from The New York Times article, the magazine had to reprint its spring issue and upped its print run for summer.
Since Ross assumed the helm, the magazine’s individual subscriptions have greatly increased and total subscribers are at about 1,200 people and 300 institutions.
On the day of this interview, the staff at the magazine was anticipating the arrival of the 500th issue, which is currently online. This magazine includes another cover created by acclaimed designers Peter Mendelsund and Oliver Munday and is one of the longer issues in Review history.
“It may be at the Post Office, we’re dying to get our hands on it,” Ross said.
The Review has broadened its variety of writers and content, including more female writers and people of different ethnicities. That expansion is displayed in the 500th issue, which also includes historical photos and copy.
“We tried to toggle a little between not only re-echoing some of the changes that we made, but also nod a little bit to history,” Ross said.
The issue includes photos of past covers and historical artifacts like pay ledgers for famous authors Ezra Pound, Cecil Day-Lewis and Sir Frank Kermode, and a table of contents that lists authors like Merrill Joan Gerber and legendary Southern writer Flannery O’Connor.
The Review has published the works of a slew of literary legends, a few include T.S. Eliot, William Faulkner, Sylvia Plath and Eudora Welty.
A photo of Allen Tate’s first cover from the 1940s is also included in the new magazine. Tate, along with managing editor Andrew Lytle, are credited with boosting the Review’s prestige in the 1940s with a stable of acclaimed writers.
As part of its current incarnation under Ross, who took over after longtime editor George Core retired, The Sewanee Review has returned to bookstores. Three new editorial assistants at the magazine, all 2017 Sewanee graduates, have been busy contacting bookstores across the country.
The new assistants said working for the Review is a tremendous opportunity to immerse themselves in the literary world and advance their own writing and careers. Spencer Hupp, who writes poetry and hails from Little Rock, Ark., is among the three new employees.
“This publication and its reputation is the reason I came to Sewanee,” Hupp said. “I wanted a place with an established literary culture and the Review is sort of the genesis of that literary culture in Sewanee.”
In addition to poring through submissions and editing, the editorial assistants also perform interviews, write blog posts and act as talent scouts, keeping their eye out for burgeoning authors to add to the magazine.
Editorial assistant Anne Adams, who hails from San Antonio, Texas, and writes fiction, said she enjoys reading work from writers that she admires. She recently interviewed one of her favorite authors, Alice McDermott.
The third new staff member, Walt Evans, who is from Birmingham, Ala., and also writes fiction, was recently able to review Jennifer Egan’s new book, “Manhattan Beach.”
“Getting that advanced copy, which was really cool, kind of made me feel like an insider because I’ve been reading her for a long time,” Evans said. “Her last novel was one of the ones that really inspired me when I was getting my degree.”
The practice of hiring new Sewanee graduates and promoting from within is something Ross said he would like to continue as long as possible. Hill, a 2016 graduate and now managing editor, was promoted after joining the staff last year. He also has a nonfiction piece slated to appear in the magazine in 2018.
William Peterfield Trent, a literary critic who taught at Sewanee and later was an English professor at Columbia University, founded The Sewanee Review in 1892.