Literary Magazines Explore New Directions

The Evolution of Creative Publications

About two weeks ago, a previously obscure Black journal received campus acclaim for its newly-released 95-page publication. Diaspora surprised a lot of its literary peers--but shocking literary peers seems to be all the rage lately.

Indeed, the appearance of new publications on the Harvard literary scene over the past few years has forced the more established magazines to redefine their audience, goals, and values.

The reinvigoration of the literary scene draws upon some very real sources; people who, in the past, have been marginalized either by their minority status or their alienation from the monolithic structure of the older magazines.

The oldest magazine on campus, founded 124 years ago, is The Harvard Advocate. Viewed by many as the most prestigious magazine, it published unchallenged until 1976, when Padan Aram offered undergraduate writers a new venue.

And it is only recently that these two literary icons have found themselves competing for material and audiences with yet another mainstream publication, a few non-selective creative forums, and numerous minority magazines.


Cultural Targets

Recently the most visible of the minority magazines has been the just-released Diaspora. Heralding itself as "the journal of Black thought and culture," the magazine, as outlined by editor Kevin L. Young, '92, attempts "to flesh out the artistic and cultural side" of Black society.

Young, who co-founded the revamped Diaspora with Annlucien Q. Senna '91, said he perceived the need for a quality literary outlet for Black voices. Young said he and Senna resolved, over last summer, to reincarnate Diaspora, a publication that originally appeared in the early 70 s.

The magazine had been resurrected last spring as a photocopied packet of contributions, but Young said both the medium and content of last year's publication were limiting.

"Student writers deserve more than a xeroxed, stapled journal in which to publish their work," Young said. "[The publication] was too insular, not addressing broader issues in Black culture and not reaching enough people."

Young cited the need for a Black publication that engages in criticism as well as creativity.

"Each issue, we plan on focusing on a particular aspect of Black culture. We want to cover a lot more in the 'real world' than other literary magazines," Young said.

But like all successful publications in "the real world," Diaspora now has to address bureacratic concerns like editing and financing, concerns that grow more pressing as the magazine itself grows. The artistic dilemmas that these concerns present trouble some members of the magazine board.

"I think we have to resolve the issue of preserving the submitter's integrity versus the editing process," said the magazine's fiction editor, Eisa Davis '92. But her caution does not temper her enthusiasm for the magazine's success.

"Aesthetically and content-wise, it looks really promising," Davis said. "There's a lot of quality writing to be tapped into."