Magazines As Literature Purveyors. The Social Role of the American Consumer Magazines. A Blast from Mr. Magazine’s™ Past: Dissertation Entries Part 6…March 27, 2015
Magazines as Literature Purveyors
Although other media might surpass magazines in the basic four functions, there is one role no other mass medium could hope to match or steal from magazines. It is their role as a platform for literature. How many remember Hemingway for “The Old Man and the Sea” because it appeared in Life, or Truman Capote, whose “In Cold Blood” first appeared in The New Yorker? American magazines have made some outstanding contributions to American literature and will continue to do so, for no other medium is willing (not to mention, able) to do the same job in the same way magazines can do it.
The role of the magazine as a platform for authors and literature dates back to the day the first magazines were published. Benjamin Franklin, who is regarded as the first person to start a magazine in the United States (in 1741), wanted a magazine to be no more than a collection of book reviews. In fact, magazines “have given rise to a new epoch in the history of intellectual improvement,” said the editor of The Latter Day Luminary, T. Edgar Lyon, in his introduction to that magazine in 1818. “Many young authors, who have risen to considerable eminence, have here made their first attempt in composition.”
The role has changed through the years from strictly reviewing books to including new pieces by promising authors. Newsworthy books and memories are excerpted before they are published. In some cases the whole book in serial form is published in a magazine before being published in book form.
The above information was written in 1983 and is taken from a portion of my dissertation when I was at the University of Missouri-Columbia where I obtained my doctorate in journalism. And while the majority of the material still holds true, things have changed drastically in some areas.
Throughout the 20th century, magazines continued to showcase books and novels between their covers. From the early writing labors of Stephen King, when he wrote and sold short stories to men’s magazines such as Cavalier, that were later republished in the 1971 collection, “Night Shift,” to Tom Wolfe’s 1984 novel “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” which first ran in serial form, 27 different entries, in Rolling Stone; magazines have displayed their devout friendship to literature.
The definition of purveyor that applies to the ages-old relationship between magazines and literature would have to be: a person or group that spreads or promotes an idea or a view. And magazines have been promoting all types of literature and compositions since their inception.
Authors of great literature and not-so-great literature have long-recognized the importance and benefits of a significant liaison with magazines. It is a platform that can promote the unknown author with as much gusto as the King’s and Capote’s of the world, showcasing their creativity and gifted imaginations in page-form, allowing the audience to read for themselves the work before they buy the book, or in some cases, before it’s even published in book-form.
This service is by far something that no other medium has grasped or even attempted to grapple with, except for the world of digital, where a serial style of fiction can be found all over the internet. Unfortunately, the experience is a nominal attempt to replicate or even surpass what print magazines have been doing excellently for generations. While the endeavor of cyberspace can certainly be appreciated by some; the impact falls short in comparison to the history of the printed magazine in this venture.
Realizing the import and implications of magazines and their place in the annals of our times; one must certainly never forget their residual and highly valuable effects as purveyors of the written word.
Until next week, when Mr. Magazine™ reflects on Magazines as Informers…