Inviting You To Join The Conversation: A Wealth of Choices in This Online Magazine
When you first open Narrative Magazine, the feeling is like that of entering the ‘unending conversation’ described by literary theorist Kenneth Burke:
Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar.
The opening page of Narrative prompts you to wonder: Where do I put in my ‘oar’? What do I first engage with in this conversation? This on-line literary magazine, first published in 2003, presents new writings - including poems, essays, fiction, as well as works by established and celebrated authors. There are also manuscripts in progress, and personal essays submitted by readers, essays with particular reference to ‘place’ referring to those turns in the reader’s/writer’s life or social realm. In this latter category, Narrative urges readers and writers to think creatively about their relationships, their past, and their emotional states.
As you peruse the opening page which is columnar in nature, you are also greeted with notices of current contests, feature articles – the last one being advice to young writers in letter format. New stories or essays are presented in an eye-catching manner - the author’s photo seated above the link to their work. There is a ‘Story of the Week,’ and a ‘Poem of the Week’ - both published on Sunday morning. Each Monday, a new literary puzzler is presented - the last being to suggest a title change for famous works. Regular updates to the fiction, essays, and poems are done three or four times a week. There are graphic stories, photography, cartoons – something for every appetite – a place for everyone to get engaged in, or enter the conversation.
All of this fare is offered in the manner of an interactive conversation. The mission of Narrative is clear: to provide award-winning selections for readers, to sustain literature by paying writers for the contributions, and to ‘discover and mentor the next generation of authors.’ Styles, techniques, and methods are extraordinarily varied. That is, there are the conventional or more traditional short stories, essays, and poems offered, yet Narrative also includes unique pieces – writings that are fresh, with vibrant techniques and styles – capturing one’s attention in their experimental nature.
For example, Narrative introduced the idea of an iPoem and iStory, both of which utilize very short pieces composed on an iPhone, with specific submission guidelines offered. A small fee is charged for submissions to the magazine and published pieces earn complementary access to Narrative Backstage, a feature that allows readers a chance to read unpublished writings of, or listen to conversations with accomplished writers such as Robert Stone.
Longer writings and other works accepted for publication may earn varying amounts, and subsequently become eligible to win one of the weekly prizes as well as the considerably well-rewarded Narrative prize. Invitations to submit one’s writing, poems, essays, or for any of the numerous contests (for those under-30, the annual Fall story contest, or the poetry contest) are interspersed on the page. As authors and contest winners are paid for their contributions, there are a few select areas of the magazine that request a small fee payment. Many of the fees are tax deductible. (Narrative is a registered 501(c)(3) organization)
A few samples of the content within Narrative Magazine:
"The Spooning and the Fork" written by Aleksandra Crapanzano is one of the first headlined offerings of the Narrative Taste section, prominently displayed on the opening page. This essay is compelling, drawing in the reader as she describes the need to prepare a perfect meal – chosen for a particular moment and special situation in her life. Crapanzano spends several paragraphs describing the lead up to her arrival at the grocery store, with her decision on what to make changing rapidly in the course of travel.
Specifics of preparing each dish – accompaniments to the main entrée of lamb - included illustrations that brought the culinary experience right to the reader, with one splendid description being that of rolling out the dough in her boyfriend’s very cold claw-footed bathtub for the pâte brisée. (His bathroom had no heat.)
Another is a short fictional piece, "Cerromar," by Kevin González. Mr. González has won two contests put forth by Narrative, as well as being a finalist for the 2010 Paterson Poetry Prize for his first collection, Cultural Studies. In "Cerromar" the passion - the sturm und drang - of an adolescent boy is depicted throughout in a language that reflects a direct and absorbing voice.
Robert Stone, a distinguished and award winning author (National Book Award), is featured in several selections in Narrative over the past few years, including an interview and readings of his most recent works, most available in audio format. Most recently, he has read an excerpt of his memoir in Narrative Outloud.
The Story of the Week focuses on new works, headlined this week with an excerpt of Peter Orner’s latest novel, Love and Shame and Love. The story (excerpt) is entitled "First Love: Portrait of the Artist as a Creative Writing Major in the Autumn of Mike Dukakis". The story is broken down into rather distinctive parts, each grabbing the reader’s attention and transitioning, sometimes abruptly, into the next part. While reading this excerpt, I had the feeling of being present at a play in the theater – seeing and hearing the actors performing, with the internal and external dialogue moving the action forward.
Willa Carroll, a poet and winner of Narrative's Third Annual Poetry Contest, and being a nominee for the 2011 Pushcart Prize, offers this and other insights in a beautiful poem titled "No Final Curtain":
THE SPOTLIGHT is a mean sun,
burns your paper doll,
your Icarus trick.
Your jumps are numbered.
Better to be a bird
Overall Narrative offers new as well as established writers a forum - to tell their stories, to enter the conversation with other writers and readers in this digital age - and as Joan Didion continually reminds us, to provide both writers and readers a space to think things through. Narrative’s aim is quite expansive - that is, to connect the communities of readers and writers around the globe, opening minds and increasing critical perspectives in our literary pursuits. Our literary world benefits immensely because of the presence of Narrative, and the invitation to enter their parlor and join the conversation is earnest.