The Conversationalists

Anisa K. Li

“How tall are you, Teddy?” asks Patrick R. Chesnut ’09. Chesnut, a former Crimson arts chair, and Edward “Teddy” Martin ’10 are co-editors of the same publication and both Harvard graduates, yet they have never met in person. This exchange is happening over a Google Hangout, a video chat, which also includes Sanders I. Bernstein’10, a former Crimson arts exec. The three alumni are co-founders of nascent literary magazine The Bad Version.

This brave endeavor has required them to devote almost all of their non-working hours to The Bad Version, a sacrifice they are happy to make because they firmly believe that the conversations they initiate in the magazine not only keep them going but are relevant for other people, too. The magazine is in some ways a liberation from the writers’ day jobs. In an early correspondence with Bernstein about first starting the magazine, Chesnut wrote, “I never write what I want to write, not entirely; I write what I think other people want me to write, or sometimes even what other people think other people will want me to write.”

Starting a publication of their own was a way for these writers to fight the absorption of their own voices into a world of professionalism. At Harvard, all three young men were deeply involved in literary pursuits, writing for The Advocate and The Crimson. After graduation, they found themselves craving a forum in which they could continue asking questions. They missed the electrifying atmosphere of college dorm room discussion, in which they constantly bounced ideas off one another. TBV is a way to keep this atmosphere alive and to extend the conversation to a broader literary community.

BLOWING SPEECH BUBBLES

The magazine’s mission, to the extent that it has one, is expressed by its title. Bernstein explains the meaning of the name: “In screenwriting ‘the bad version’ is a term that refers to the prototype of a scene, the first idea that gets the ball rolling in the script’s development.” This idea goes some way to explaining why every piece in the magazine, whether an essay, a poem, or a work of fiction, is accompanied by a response. The idea is to constantly reexamine and improve.

Multimedia

Trevor J. Martin ’10, the art director of TBV who designed the cover artwork for both issues, implemented this process of constant review in coming up with the second cover. He started with a drawing of a skeleton which several speech bubbles coming out of it. “But really I just liked the speech bubbles. They were really cute,” he says. He describes working through several iterations of the cover before reaching the final product, which he calls a “conceptual wrapper” for the content.

The aim in starting the magazine was to initiate a dialogue, both at the micro level within the magazine and in the literary community at large. According to the creators of TBV, the publication is the first step in building a forum for modern literary and cultural criticism.

GOOGLE GROUPING

“Teddy is actually only a floating head,“ quips Bernstein, with a grin thats not too subtle for the webcam to register.

“I may not have met you in person, but I have seen you shirtless in other Hangouts,” says Chesnut, before adding in jest, “That’s off the record.”

Martin says, “You can’t retroactively take that off the record.”

Despite the relaxed tone of the Google Hangout, TBV’s second issue launches on Feb. 22, and the three editors are occupied with preparations. Almost all the business of producing the magazine, from determining the contributors and content to organizing circulation, is coordinated via Google Hangout. The three alums chatting this evening live in different locations. Bernstein lives at home in New Jersey; Chesnut is in his hometown of Chicago; and Martin is in the magazine’s heartland, that cradle of literary entrepreneurship, Brooklyn, N.Y.

The interactions between writers are bantering and lighthearted, but there is no mistaking that everyone involved takes the work extremely seriously. Their efforts are reflected in the strides TBV has made since its first issue. As Bernstein says with a hint of pride that even his boundless modesty cannot conceal, “In one issue we have gone from being read to being read about.”

Though they have made progress, the editors are acutely aware of the work that lies ahead. Attracting contributors is a perpetual challenge. With the second issue barely on shelves, Bernstein is already keen to get started on the third, which is currently set to release around May 20.

BREAKING THE MOLD

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