Was New American Review the best literary magazine ever?

Arts, entertainment, and more.
Aug. 19 2008 11:50 AM

Was New American Review the Best Literary Magazine Ever?

I dare you to name a better one.

Elsewhere in Slate this week, Thomas Beller writes about Ted Solotaroff, his literary contemporary Rust Hills, and the mysterious motives of fiction editors. 

New American Review.

The recent death of legendary editor and critic Ted Solotaroff brought back memories of being in thrall to his greatest creation, the literary magazine New American Review (later simply American Review). In 26 issues, from September 1967 through November 1977, under the successive sponsorships of New American Library, Simon & Schuster, and finally Bantam, NAR reliably bottled the cultural lightning flashing about in those thrillingly depressing years. James Wolcott, in his lovely post "Last of the Literary Godfathers," calls it "a zeitgeist mixtape." That's exactly what it was. As soon as NAR was launched, it became the place where young readers hot for the newest new things in literature and experience rushed to get The Word. Man, did it deliver. I have just looked through the tables of contents of my completist's collection of all 26 numbers, which only confirmed my conviction that NAR was the greatest American literary magazine ever. You might protest, but consider:

Its roster of fiction included work by Philip Roth (two pieces from Portnoy's Complaint and "I Always Wanted You To Admire My Fasting: Looking at Kafka"), Leonard Michaels, Gabriel García Márquez, Max Apple ("The Oranging of America"), John Barth, Tom Robbins, Susan Sontag, V.S. Pritchett, Grace Paley ("Faith: In a Tree"), Robert Stone, Ian McEwan (three of his earliest stories), Jorge Luis Borges, Gilbert Sorrentino ("The Moon in Its Flight"), Brian Moore, J.F. Powers, Cynthia Ozick, Stanley Elkin, Donald Barthelme ("Robert Kennedy Saved From Drowning"), Russell Banks, Ralph Ellison, J.F. Powers, and William Gass ("In the Heart of the Heart of the Country"). Do read that list again. It published Harold Brodkey's notorious cunnilingual epic "Innocence," with its immortal line "To see her in sunlight was to see Marxism die." E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime and Robert Coover's The Public Burning first appeared in its pages. Nonfiction works that debuted in NAR included Kate Millett's Sexual Politics, Michael Herr's Dispatches, A. Alvarez's The Savage God, and Marshall Berman's lyric apologia for radical striving, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air. Its brainy and ultraengaged essays included Gass' "Fiction and the Figures of Life," Ellen Willis' "Lessons of Chicago," Leslie Epstein's "Walking Wounded, Living Dead" (an astonishing meditation on the return of the Living Theatre from exile, and perhaps the most penetrating thing ever written about the '60s crackup), Norman Mailer's "A Course in Film-Making" (a chest-beating account of the making of Maidstone), and superb work from Stanley Kauffmann, Richard Gilman, George Dennison, Peter Handke, Wilfrid Sheed, Albert Goldman, Paul Zweig, and Theodore Roszak. Its gilt-edged roster of poets featured Allen Ginsberg, John Ashbery, John Berryman, Richard Hugo, James Welch, Sylvia Plath, A.R. Ammons , James Merrill, and W.S. Merwin.

Advertisement

Partisan Review partisans, start your engines!

NAR was entirely the product of its editor's particular taste and critical intelligence (with No. 16, the words "Edited by Theodore Solotaroff" began to appear on the cover). It was also acutely reflective of its time in respect to its contents, its overall stance, and its unusual format as a mass-market paperback widely available not only in bookstores but also in drugstores and candy stores. A former graduate student of literature at the University of Chicago in the '50s (where his long, complicated friendship with Philip Roth began), he had honed his editorial skills at Commentary under the tutelage of Norman Podhoretz and then edited Book Week, the review supplement of the New York Herald Tribune for a couple of years.

TODAY IN SLATE

Sports Nut

Grandmaster Clash

One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

Do the Celebrities Whose Nude Photos Were Stolen Have a Case Against Apple?

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

Future Tense

Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company

Food

How to Order Chinese Food

First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”

Scotland Is Inspiring Secessionists Across America

The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant

The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 11:40 AM The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant
Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
The World
Sept. 18 2014 1:34 PM Americans Fault Obama for Giving Them Exactly the Anti-ISIS Strategy They Want
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 18 2014 2:18 PM The NFL Is Not a Nonprofit So why does it get to act like one?
  Life
Doonan
Sept. 18 2014 2:00 PM On the Death of My Homophobic Dog I named him Liberace, but I couldn’t have chosen a less appropriate namesake for this coarse, emotionally withholding Norwich terrier.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 12:03 PM The NFL Opines on “the Role of the Female”
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 2:32 PM Kern Your Enthusiasm: The Friendliness of Chicago
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 2:39 PM Here's How to Keep Apple From Sharing Your iPhone Data With the Police
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 18 2014 7:30 AM Red and Green Ghosts Haunt the Stormy Night
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.