VQR beats ‘the Yankees’
||Along with striking visuals, these three issues of VQR feature writing from literary titans Salman Rushdie and Isabel Allende, Nobel Prize-winner Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winners alongside rising stars like Stuart Dybek. All under the watch of editor Ted Genoways (below).
By Brevy Cannon
The National Magazine Awards, called the “Ellies,” are the Oscars of the magazine world— the industry’s highest honor. Year after year, powerhouses like The New Yorker, Time, Harper’s, Rolling Stone and National Geographic take home most of the trophies. Occassionally a literary journal may receive a single nomination for fiction or poetry. But on March 15, the Virginia Quarterly Review fired a shot across the bow of the magazine world when it received six Ellie nominations, second only to The Atlantic and ahead of all the other usual big names.
For a small magazine to receive six nominations is unprecedented. The other six magazines with five or more nominations have circulations ranging from 250,000 to over 2 million, staffs of dozens, and multimillion-dollar annual budgets. By comparison, VQR’s circulation is 6,000; its staff is just four full-time employees; and it is supported by the University of Virginia. “It was as if a scrappy farm team had demolished the Yankees in an exhibition game,” commented Meghan O’Rourke for Slate.com.
Media watchers have been reeling with astonishment at the coup by VQR. The New York Post hailed the six nods as “the biggest surprise of the day,” and Slate.com dubbed VQR “the literary dark horse.”
The six Ellie nominations are the latest proof that VQR’s hard work is paying off. Think of this as a call-up to the Big League after having burned up the minors for a couple of seasons. In the past 18 months VQR has racked up one honor after another, in the wake of a total revamp by editor Ted Genoways in 2003. Two Ellie nominations last year, (for General Excellence for Magazines with circulations under 100,000 and for Fiction), made VQR one of only 20 magazines nationally that received multiple nominations. At that time, the nominating committee wrote, “VQR has been catapulted into the 21st century with a stunning new design, edgy graphic features, and in-depth reporting from around the world — all of it augmenting, not replacing, its literary core.” This year’s six Ellie nominations were in the same two categories, General Excellence and Fiction (two nominations), along with Essays (two nominations) and Reviews & Criticism.
Last fall, Folio, the leading trade publication for magazine management, gave VQR a First Place Ozzie Award for Best Redesign and a Second Place Eddie Award for Editorial Excellence. In February VQR became the first journal ever to receive awards from the Council of Editors of Learned Journals (CELJ) in both the literary and scholarly categories when it won the Phoenix Award for Editorial Achievement among academic journals that have undergone dramatic and significant improvements during the previous two years. This followed the Parnassus Award in January 2005 for the best single issue of a literary journal published within the previous three years. The Phoenix Award noted that VQR “truly has arrived at the boundary between an academic and a high-brow trade publication” as it reinvented itself “with imaginative panache.”
Genoways was chosen as editor in 2003 for his inspiring vision of how to transform VQR, his uncanny record of previous successes and his knack for landing contributions from major authors. Faced with a steadily aging readership, and the need to attract new younger readers, his makeover of VQR included adding graphic novels, investigative reporting, photography portfolios and cultural journalism to the traditional mix of historical essays, fiction and poetry.
Genoways has landed an impressive cadre of big name writers for VQR, the type of marquee names that attract new readers. He has described his appeals to literary stars like Salman Rushdie as “a combination of begging and arm twisting.” Stephen B. Cushman, professor of English and one of VQR’s board of advisory editors, puts it this way: “He is fearless in going after the big name. He is respectful and conscientious, and he lands the big contributors.” In addition to Rushdie, Genoways has published work from Nobel Prize-winners Toni Morrison and Gabriel Garcia-Marquez; Pulitzer Prize-winners Michael Chabon, Art Spiegelman and Charles Wright; and National Book Award-winners E.L. Doctorow, Cormac McCarthy and Robert Bly.
This continues VQR’s venerable legacy of publishing a virtual Who’s Who of 20th century authors, including D. H. Lawrence, Aldous Huxley, Evelyn Waugh, T.S. Eliot, Thomas Wolfe, Jean-Paul Sartre, Bertrand Russell, H.L. Mencken and Robert Frost.
Though Genoways, now 33, was the youngest editor ever chosen, he was already a published poet, with several national awards to his credit, and a preternaturally successful editor from the age of 15. As a freshman at Lincoln East High School in Nebraska, Genoways and others started a school magazine, Muse, which, two years later, the Columbia School of Journalism named the best high school publication in the country.
Genoways went on to attend Nebraska Wesleyan University where, as a freshman, he founded the Coyote, a general interest, pop culture magazine. Once again earning plaudits, the Columbia Scholastic Press Association gave the Coyote honorable mention for “overall design.”
After working in a couple of professional editorial positions, Genoways came to U.Va. in 1997 for an M.F.A. and promptly founded U.Va.’s first M.F.A. student-run literary journal, Meridian, which has, once again, been a resounding success. Since its first issue in 1998, Meridian has published works from Pulitzer Prize winners and it continues to rank among the top literary journals produced by graduate creative writing programs.
Some may see quarterlies as a dying breed, quaint and outdated in the age of the Internet, but not Genoways. He believes that being a quarterly gives VQR an advantage, allowing him to chose content by asking, “Will we really care about this in six months?” With Genoways deciding, clearly we will.