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LA Might Not Have The New Yorker, But At Least We're Not Pretentious: Spotlight on Local Lit Mags

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By Katherine Manderfield/Special to LAist

So maybe our city isn’t host to regal literary journals like Harper’s, Granta, or The Paris Review. And, yes, elite literary parlors with Merlot and Camembert on doilies seem somewhat amiss in a city where flames seize shrubs more often than fireplaces. But that doesn’t mean LA’s literary publications fall short. It just means we’re not stuck up. In truth, several esteemed lit journals prevail in our unassuming city. And with good reason: like many things considered pompous elsewhere (tattoos, indie music, modern art, the color black), literary magazines are cooler in Los Angeles.

Introducing our key players:

Slake: Beautiful and engaging, Slake was started by LA Weekly editors Joe Donnelly and Laurie Ochoa. Slake aims to preserve story telling and ‘slow lit’ through thoughtfully written work. Contributors have included Mark Danielewski, Jonathan Gold, Christine Wertheim, and Ben Ehrenreich. Slake is published quarterly and features long-form journalism, essay, memoir, poetry and fiction. A review from GOOD Magazine proclaimed, "Slake: The Literary Journal That Understands LA."; Despite having released only two issues, the full-color journal has already landed on the Los Angeles Times best-seller list. In an open letter, the editors offer, "We expect you’ll find a lot of your city and yourself in these pages." The journal accepts online and print submissions. Slake is available online, at Book Soup, and from other local booksellers. $18 print.

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Black Clock Literary Magazine: Self-ascribed “singular, idiosyncratic, and a bit mysterious,” LA’s Black Clock has been one of the nation’s foremost experimental literary journals since 2004. The journal showcases fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and cross-genre work. Contributor Don DeLillo called Black Clock, “a journal of ideas, provocations and cultural leaps, with some of the best writing anywhere.” Other featured writers include William T. Vollman, David Foster Wallace, Shelly Jackson, and Jonathan Lethem. The journal is published biannually by the MFA Writing Program at CalArts and edited by novelist Steve Erickson. Work featured in Black Clock has been nominated for O. Henry and Pushcart Prizes and an excerpted book went on to win the National Book Award. The journal accepts online submissions twice yearly. Black Clock is available online and at Skylight Books. $13 print, $3 PDF.

The Los Angeles Review: “Divergent, West Coast Literature,” is The Los Angeles Review motto. Red Hen Press founder Kate Gale edits the LAR, which hosts dozens of writing workshops in LA and online. The aesthetic of LAR, as outlined in its masthead, is, “something disturbing, something alive, something of the possibility of what it could be to be human in the 21st century.” The journal features poetry, fiction, nonfiction, book reviews, and translations. Past LAR contributors include Pablo Neruda, Lydia Davis, Amy Gerstler and Barry Yourgrau. Each issue is dedicated to a west coast writer—with the latest release honoring Ishmael Reed. The LAR is published twice yearly and accepts online submissions as of March 1, 2011. The Los Angeles Review is available onlineand through Red Hen Pressin Pasadena. $15 print.

Faultline: While the Puschcart Prize-winning Faultline lies a bit south of LA, it’s a notable local lit journal produced by the English Department at UC Irvine. Since 1994, Faultline has been published each spring and features poetry, fiction, translations, and artwork. The journal seeks to promote new and emerging writers alongside work from more established names. Past contributors include James D. Houston, Sue Woolfe, and Allen Grossman. Submissions are accepted once a year via mail. Faultline is available from the UC Irvine English Department by way of mail-in form. $10 print. $5 back issues.

Swink: The aptly named Swink is a nostalgic lit ‘zine gone digital. Local founder Leelila Strogov and chief editor Darcy Cosper run this online literary outpost from Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and beyond. Swink seeks boundary-breaking work and writing with guts. In addition to publishing poetry, fiction, and essays, they have three unique columns: Dead Letter Office (“Letters that say what you wish you’d said but didn’t, what you want to say but can’t, what needs to be said but never will be—except here…”), Wit’s End (“Parody and satire, riffs and follies, comic flights of fancy from lowbrow to high concept.”), and You Are Here (“Stories about where you live and where you’ve been: the feud between your neighbors, the ugliest tree in your favorite park, the oldest drunk in Hong Kong…”). Plus, you can read published works for free. Submissions are ongoing. Swink is only available online.

Santa Monica Review: Sponsored by Santa Monica College and founded by Jim Krusoe, the award-winning Santa Monica Review is published twice annually and features literary works of fiction and nonfiction. The journal focuses on Southern California and Pacific Rim writers, both emerging and well known. Past contributors include John Cage, Aimee Bender, Charles Baxter and T.C. Boyle. Submissions are accepted via mail and SASE. The Santa Monica Review is available online, at Small World Books and at other local bookstores. $7 print. $5 back issues.

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While this list isn’t nearly exhaustive enough, these journals boast innovative and award-winning writing. From the darkly nuanced Black Clock to the quick-witted Swink and ‘slow-lit’ bent of Slake, LA holds its own in the literary journal realm. Submit, subscribe, or pick up a copy and support local literature in keeping LA well versed.

Know of other LA literary journals? Weigh in with a comment below.