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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Canteen Magazine Grows, Builds Community

Posted By on Thu, Apr 28, 2011 at 8:55 AM

click to enlarge Porochista Khakpour is among 16 "Hot Authors" who'll appear in issue seven of Canteen. - SAM FALLS
  • Sam Falls
  • Porochista Khakpour is among 16 "Hot Authors" who'll appear in issue seven of Canteen.

As the disparity between rich and poor continues to increase, literature is more important than ever. Two important questions are: How will we get it, and who is willing to make it happen? Both were answered enthusiastically last night, as a throng of lit supporters filled Project One Gallery to benefit Canteen's biannual print magazine, which is edited, managed, and otherwise staffed wholly by volunteers.

Print. We want to hold on to the idea that what we have to say is worth the little space we have in our homes, that we are worth saving. This is why we pull from our pockets and give to the few bastions left, the people and organizations who understand what it means to go hungry for what they believe in. Many of the people who attended the gala, though well-established, have humble backgrounds. The evening's honoree, for instance -- former San Francisco Chronicle books editor, McSweeney's publisher, and new managing editor of Zyzzyva, Oscar Villalon -- has worked his way into Bay Area hearts and minds through a life of hard, honest work. Those who maketh, giveth back. (Hear Canteen executive editor Mia Lipman introduce Villalon in the clip below.)

Copies of Canteen's six issues were strewn around a lush lounge area. In one is an essay by Stephen Elliott in which he says, "I don't believe in connections. I believe in the slush pile." And in a recent article, Reyhan Harmanci says that literary journals are flourishing. Lipman says that in the past six months, submissions have increased by several hundred. Trust in the slush pile, indeed. Canteen receives thousands of submissions every half-year and now has, for the first time, a managing editor: Kristina Wenzinger, who recently transplanted from MacAdam/Cage Publishing, a move that speaks for itself.

Founder and publisher Stephen Pierson and his wife had their first child last month. He noted that while sometimes he feels "a little silly about devoting so many unpaid hours to this Canteen thing ... the best predictor, far and away, of your child's eventual academic and workplace success" is neither your respective levels of education nor your occupation, but "how many books you have in your house." Print.

Robert Mailer Anderson, in appreciating Villalon, said: "As much as small literary magazines might be thriving, it's not that common to have somebody like Oscar who you can ... look across some Chinese food with and know that it's life and death, and know that he can meet you in those places and he can intelligently, and heartfelt, disagree with you, and you can still continue the conversation to get to a place that you understand better about yourself, about him, and probably about viewpoints that wouldn't have come up had you not had that conversation with Oscar."

SF Chronicle columnist Leah Garchik returned us to our jocular selves with a limerick about some of Villalon's peculiarities (a list made possible with a little help from his wife, Mary, and which you can hear in the clip above). It illustrated that the people who'd paid $75 each to support Canteen were supporting far more than a literary journal.

The hosts unveiled a project for issue seven called Hot Authors. They've recruited 16 respected art photographers to shoot 16 authors. This is an attempt to restore authors to their rightful place "as cultural heroes," they say, and to push the normative bounds of the literary journal. "Writers don't traditionally get such crass and ubiquitous promotion. But why can't they at least try to compete with pop-culture stars on the same terms?" It ends: "Crass? Of course. But in this business, being austere is deadly."

Without this party and others like it, such magazines would not be able to grow. Canteen is unquestionably one of the best print journals I've seen. So even if you take your lit without a side of party, you can still show your support. Give Canteen a read. It might just inspire you to go hungry for something you believe in.

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Evan Karp

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