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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

ZYZZYVA's 100th Issue: An Interview with the Editors

Posted By on Tue, May 6, 2014 at 8:00 AM

click to enlarge zyzzyva100.gif

On Thursday, the local gem of a literary journal ZYZZYVA celebrates the publication of its 100th issue with a big bang of a party at the California Historical Society. The issue is fantastic -- filled with work by previous and recent contributors including Rebecca Solnit, Kay Ryan, Glen David Gold, and Paul Madonna. You can actually read the issue's letter from the editors, Laura Cogan and Oscar Villalon, right here.

The party will include presentions and performances by Michael Krasny, Daniel Handler, Po Bronson, Robert Hass, and other special guests, as well as food, drinks, and music, and all who attend will receive a copy of the 100th issue. There will also be a silent auction with some excellent prizes that range from signed Junot Diaz collections to a meal with the editors and a manuscript consultation.

Looking forward to the event for some time now, and thinking this would be a good time to check in, I sent a few questions to Laura and Oscar and they were kind enough to answer.

Now that it's been a little while, can you talk about the changes in ZYZZYVA since you've taken over? Don't hold back! From the website to editorial decisions, to events and aesthetic.

We have, if anything, embraced an aesthetic of elegance, both in the redesign of the journal and the website and even in the writing we publish. It's not ostentatious, though. What we're after is the clean sentence, the inviting cover. We want people to understand that what they're reading is work that's been carefully crafted. It's not disposable, but rather meant to be kept and enjoyed over time.

We've also increased our public events programming considerably. Our events could be called laid back and casual, for the most part, but we're still serious about the writers being presented at each one. We've been doing about twenty events each year since 2011. Not all of those are strictly ZYZZYVA events, either: we often collaborate with other arts organizations. Why? Because we want to truly integrate ourselves into the literary and arts scene here at large. We're part of a wider community. It's an ecosystem, if you will, in which everybody needs to take an active role.

How many issues have you put together since taking over?

The 100th Issue will be the 10th issue we've published together.

What are some of the things you're most proud of having published?

It's a cliché, but we're proud of everything we've published. But there are some pieces that are unusual and of special interest. The work on the drug war in Mexico, which appeared in Issue No. 94, would fall into that category. There's incredible reportage, essays, and fiction pertaining to that crisis which holds up and continues to illuminate the situation there. And it's work by accomplished Mexican writers and poets that a majority of U.S. readers would otherwise not know about. All of the work appearing in Issue 100 is special, too. The journal has never before gathered original work by such a roster of luminaries, many of them past and recent contributors. We hope it perfectly captures how deep and rich ZYZZYVA's legacy is, and why we work hard to keep that legacy going.

What's coming up after 100?

More of the same high quality work. Next year is our 30th anniversary, so you can expect to see some surprises from us in 2015, too.

Are you committed to the journal's West Coast bent? If so, why is this important? Do you think it's helped to shape a particular voice in American literature?

Absolutely. It's been ZYZZYVA's mission in the past, and it will be our mission in the future, to present the work of respected and emerging writers, poets, and artists living on the West Coast. We've opened up the doors somewhat, and created room in the journal for writers across the country, so it's no longer exclusively open to writers working here -- but our emphasis and our perspective remain distinctly West Coast.

And given that the journal early on published such writers as Kay Ryan, Sherman Alexie, Wanda Coleman, Brenda Hillman, Haruki Murakami, Dagoberto Gilb, Barry Gifford, and so forth, you could say we've been supporting important voices in American literature long before the general reading audience knew about them. A lot of those early contributors, as that list would indicate, weren't white, weren't straight, weren't men, or weren't writing conventional narratives. I think that's something the journal can be hugely proud of, of championing these writers at the outset.

Anything else you'd like to add?

Yes. A subscription to ZYZZYVA will make you even more attractive than you already are. If you throw in our stylish black T-shirt and buy a ticket to our May 8th fundraiser in San Francisco, nobody will be able to resist you. Just something people should consider, is all.

ZYZZYVA's 100th Issue Celebration is Thursday at the California Historical Society (678 Mission), 6:30 p.m. $25.

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

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Evan Karp


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