Inside the Box

Because, of course, when do we stop thinking about stories? We’re familiar with the beginning of Apple, just like we know the origin story of Superman (and Batman, and Wonder Woman, etc.). We know the tragedy of the Indonesian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. Some of the stories of Jesus and Mohammad, of the Buddha. We’ve read about Oliver Twist and Scheherazade. The French Revolution. Arab Spring. John Henry. Sappho. Little Orphan Annie. Is anyone watching the final season of Mad Men in April? “Is Little Nell dead?” Once upon a time. And then what happened? One thing led to another.

And as we’re typing this thing up, Vito recalls how as a child his grandmother would feed him and tell stories (though he also realizes that, in his memory, he’s actually too old to be fed. But it’s how he remembers). They’re sitting at a large round table in the family pizza shop, his mother serving customers at the counter, or maybe chopping up a cheese steak, her head cocked to one side, long, straight, brown hair hangs down and to the side. She’s dreaming; she’s so young, mid-twenties maybe. Her own stories swirling around in her head. The stories his grandmother told were her own versions of fairy tales and myths—her own version because the stories were constantly evolving. Most of the stories focused on a central theme: little children who disobeyed their parents ended up in a witch’s boiling pot of water, eaten by men who were part wolf, taken by strangers who did, well, who knows what. At times, his other grandmother chimed in with her own revisions, often more hopeful and less severe, and the two would often bicker and carry out their endless tug of war. (In a way, this is a magazine for Vito’s grandmothers.)

Many will recognize that what you’ve got here is a new magazine channeling a legendary one from the past. During its original incarnation from 1931 to 1964, Story magazine was the most important literary short fiction publication, founding editors Martha Foley and Whit Burnett discovering and publishing such storytelling greats as Nelson Algren, Richard Wright, Malcolm Lowry, Zora Neale Hurston, Gertrude Stein, James Laughlin, John Cheever, Graham Greene, J. D. Salinger, Norman Mailer, Flann O’Brien, Truman Capote, John Knowles, Joseph Heller, and, well: on and on. After twenty-five years of radio silence, Story was revived by Lois Rosenthal—upon special request from Burnett—for a very prosperous literary decade from 1989 to 2000, publishing early work by Junot Diaz, Amy Bloom, Chris Adrian, Colum McCann, Lan Samantha Chang, Nathan Englander, Rick Bass, Amanda Davis, and Hannah Tinti, and gaining a circulation topping off at 40,000, the highest in the magazine’s history.

This isn’t that Story—though Travis is a Story superfan. He read Rosenthal’s run in the 90s and, like many writers of the period, was wildly influenced by what he found there; after reading Diaz’s “Ysrael” in an issue, he wrote a year’s worth of Spanish-infused fiction, writing best lost to history. As great as the original Story was, we don’t want to recreate that magazine; though short fiction holds a singular place in contemporary letters, our net is wider. We hope for a diversity of narrative mirroring our contemporary, transnational lives: memoirs, interviews, superhero poetry, sci-fi fiction, case studies, maps, machines.

So as we dig deeper into this project, into stories—when we try to consider, “what is story?”—the thing becomes more elusive, the word itself more slippery. We can’t pretend to know what the one true definition of story is, nor do we go into this venture with the hubris of trying to create our own. But we do know this: currently a magazine devoted to story does not exist. So maybe it’s that, the notion that stories are such a part of our existence, and yet, we don’t have that one place to go.

Through the use of themed issues, we hope to curate a collection of stories, in whichever form they present themselves, and put them in one place. Imagine a box filled and taped shut in a dusty attic simply labeled: “Stories.” You can’t help but approach the box with some sense of suspense (you don’t know what you’re going to find in there). Inside: new fiction from Andrew Malan Milward—a story playing across time and perspective, confronting head-on our notions about narrative authority; a portfolio of literary minimalism featuring Frederick Barthelme, Mary Miller, and Tao Lin; new Flarf poetry from K. Silem Mohammad; and a comic about love and loss from MariNaomi. That’s just the stuff on top.

Stories inform us of other lives. They offer up ideas about how we are different and how we are the same. Empathy; that’s maybe why we consume them. In the end, stories allow us to escape into otherness. “Only connect,” as E.M. Forster wrote—but only escape, too.

 

—Vito Grippi & Travis Kurowski, January 2014