Bookforum Is Closing, Leaving Fewer Publications Devoted to Books

From a New York Times story by Kate Dwyer and Elizabeth A. Harris headlined “Bookforum Is Closing, Leaving Ever Fewer Publications Devoted to Books”:

The literary magazine Bookforum announced on Monday that its current issue would be its last, dealing a significant blow to literary journalism, which has been vastly diminished in recent years.

“We are so proud of the contribution Bookforum has made to the literary community,” the magazine said on Twitter after announcing its closure, “and are immensely grateful to the advertisers, subscribers and booksellers who made our mission possible over the years.”

Bookforum was one of the few remaining publications devoted to books, running a mix of reviews, essays and interviews. Among the articles it published over the years were interviews with writers like Jhumpa Lahiri and Marlon James, and essays on Philip Roth and George Saunders.

So called “little” magazines — independent and noncommercial journals, often with readership in the low four figures — are experiencing a renaissance, with the recent launching of many new publications such as The Drift and Forever Magazine. At the same time, national legacy journals funded by corporations are struggling to stay afloat in an era of consolidation.

Astra Magazine, an international magazine of literature published by Astra Publishing House, ceased publication earlier this year after two issues, while The Washington Post Magazine announced that its final issue will run at the end of December. (The Post’s books section, Book World, has recently made a comeback, however.)

Bookforum and its sister publication, Artforum, were acquired by Penske Media Corporation last week. Penske did not respond to questions about the decision to shutter Bookforum. David Velasco, the editor of Artforum, said that magazine would continue operations.

Bookforum’s website will continue to offer access to the archives for the near future, according to Kate Koza, who is the associate publisher at Artforum and Bookforum, and will stay on at Artforum.

Bookforum was an important outlet for freelance book reviewers, who could gain exposure there, and for authors as well, as one of the few remaining places they could hope to receive a thoughtful and lengthy review.

“I think it’s unfortunate for young writers especially,” said Kaitlin Phillips, a writer and publicist whose first print byline was in Bookforum. She described the magazine as “the first stop on a train that ends” at publications like Harper’s, The London Review of Books and The New York Review of Books. “I also feel for the small presses who rely on the consistent attention Bookforum paid to their novels.”

For small, independent and academic presses that found a platform in the magazine, the closure will be a real loss, said Janique Vigier, an editor at the independent publisher Semiotext(e).

It “gave this dignity to what you do,” Vigier said, “because most of the time working in publishing at that level is a labor of love, and also a vow of poverty.”

Lydia Kiesling, author of the novel “The Golden State” and a former editor of the literary magazine The Millions, said in an email that Bookforum had a reputation for long-form criticism that was both serious and stylish.

“It was a gift to have my work taken seriously in a critical format of which there are so few remaining,” she said. “The destruction of the ecosphere of letters by media consolidation is a disaster for writers.”

Hafizah Augustus Geter, author of the memoir “The Black Period,” and a literary agent at Janklow & Nesbit, said established authors who regularly receive reviews will continue to do so, but the magazine’s closure would have larger effects for emerging writers, queer writers and writers of color.

Bookforum encouraged editors to experiment and take chances, said Namara Smith, a former editor at the magazine who now works at The New Yorker.

Every time they closed an issue, she and a colleague would say to each other that they couldn’t believe they were still being allowed to put out the magazine, she said. “It always felt like we were getting away with something.”

Elizabeth A. Harris writes about books and publishing for The Times.

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