Thomas Beller looks back on Open City

By Harriet Staff

After he and co-editor Joanna Yas announced the Open City's end as a magazine last week (they will still continue to publish books), Thomas Beller reflects on their last 20 years in The Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy. Beller comments that after a certain period, a journal's contributors and readers begin to think of it as a public utility; something that started as a circle of friends to support and sustain a certain aesthetic, that threw great parties, that published what they loved while still being open to new writers turns into a situation where "one’s slowness in responding to the slush pile is greeted with the same irritation as a blackout or lack of hot water."

Trying to find a balance in the lifespan of a journal, a sweet spot between the eager years of scraping together five to ten dollars at the doors of readings to publish the next issue and becoming a "no machine," is a struggle that would be familiar to many publishers, particularly if they've been with the magazine since its founding as Beller has. To keep pace with publishing's ups and downs (and Open City has had many of both) requires a miraculous juggling act when one is also trying simultaneously to be "on the pulse" and timeless.

Magazines that publish literature, on the other hand, are trying to publish news that stays news. Should good writing date? Yes and no. Pick up the best literary journals and the writing is still fresh even if the magazine itself seems totally of its time: This is true of almost every issue of the New American Review. If you stumble onto Philip Roth’s first published story in a Paris Review from the 50′s, will it still seem fresh as a piece of writing? Yes. But you will read it differently knowing what he went on to do. This is also true of Grand Street, Antaeus, Granta, Threepenny Review, Story and so on. The old issues are like markers. And they are snapshots of a world. The assembled writers and their work are the visible part of the world. If you have been involved with putting the issue out, however, they are also markers in your own personal life, with a whole cosmology attached, rooms full of people, some dead and some changed beyond recognition, old loves, old arguments.

Originally Published: March 7th, 2011