Why We Keep Reading

The literary magazine in America does awesome and vital work: in a culture dedicated to sweeping any trace of virtue up into the smokestack of big media, the literary magazine makes a home for the Good but Offbeat. Or the Wonderful, Present in Nascent Form. Not to mention the Wild But Undisciplined. Or, most importantly: That Which is Coming From Somewhere Previously Underrepresented. In short, it allows for those products of our culture that have not put on the garb of the mainstream but are nevertheless vital. So as the garb of the mainstream becomes dumber and tighter and more dedicated to serving the status quo, the literary magazine protects the democracy, by protecting diversity. It does so by listening, and listening well, to the odd and unknown voices that come through its doors, which most often arrive without agents or industry contacts or lengthy impressive vitas. There are many truths, and a democracy had better hear them all, whereas our democracy, more and more, seems dedicated to hearing the same two or three over and over, especially if these two or three help the powers that be to move product.

—George Saunders, “A Remembrance,” Quarterly West #53, Fall/Winter 2001–2002