Challenging Our Assumptions
Every once in a while, I’m reminded that no matter how creative and non-conformist I think that I am, in truth, I still put people, things, and ideas into boxes. Like most writers, my imagined self is more open-minded than my actual self. So when my copy of One Story arrived in the mail, and I discovered not one, but ten, brightly colored, five-inch-by-seven-inch paper booklets, each with its own title and author, I shook my head. No advertisements for writer retreats in heavily wooded, remote areas of the United States. No seemingly misplaced, esoteric photos and illustrations with little to no relevance. No glossy cover featuring an exclusive author interview. Again, I shook my head. “This has to be a mistake,” I thought to myself.
The problem: my indelible impression of how a literary magazine should look based on the narrow standard set by university English departments and the periodicals section at Barnes and Noble. But as I learned in twelfth grade biology, form follows function, and the very essence of One Story is its unique visual aesthetic: one short story of literary fiction, every three weeks, easy to carry and easy to read.
I appreciate a nonprofit magazine that actually looks like a magazine published by motivations beyond the profit of any individual or group of investors. And I think having an issue solely dedicated to your own story makes for a much cooler presentation to friends and family than having to send Nanny and Poppy a black and white photocopy, or the pages you ripped out from the magazine.
As a humorist writer who is a black female of African descent, I appreciate the magazine’s inclusion of stories that touch on universal themes through unique perspectives, a consistent thread I picked up on as I thumbed through the ten issues (Numbers 131 through 140) to get a feel for the magazine, to learn a bit about the authors themselves, and to understand the magazine’s “voice.”
Although Naomi J. Williams sets "Snow Men" in 1786 Lituya Bay, Alaska, her main character reminds me of many childhood friends from Prince George’s County, Maryland circa the mid-1980 to the mid-1990s. Similarly, the beginning of Molly Antopol’s "The Quietest Man" and her depiction of an immigrant couple in the early years of their arrival to a college campus in Vermont reminds me of my own parents’ struggle in 1970s Boston as newly arrived immigrants from Nigeria.
One Story’s egalitarian treatment of submissions—they will publish each writer only once—should be an encouragement to new and aspiring writers who hope to see their work published in a literary magazine. Cheston Knapp’s romantic tennis drama, "A Minor Momentousness in the History of Love," is his first published story (and reminds me a lot of the movie Brown Sugar). Grant Munroe’s hilarious "Corporate Park," is his first published work of fiction (and if you think the idea of a mountain lion in an office building is a little far-fetched just remember: “There’s a tiger in the bathroom!” from The Hangover). Knapp and Munroe are in the company of eight other writers with varied backgrounds as novelists, fellows, creative writing professors, screenwriters, and anthology editors.
Challenging the assumptions of what a literary magazine is works to One Story’s benefit, particularly in its effective and robust use of social media—another cost-effective tool for a publication seeking to stay advertisement-free while engaging subscribers and the public. I think One Story makes a great addition to the Kindle library so I am happy to see Kindle subscriptions available and iPad subscriptions forthcoming. Between its own Twitter feeds and blog, One Story makes it pretty easy for readers to stay in touch with the magazine and build community with each other. In fact, I’m jumping on Facebook, because I’m a fan.