March 5, 2013 | by Lorin Stein
What follows is the Editor’s Note from issue 204.
For the cover of our sixtieth-anniversary issue, we asked the French artist JR to make a giant poster of George Plimpton’s face and paste it up on a wall in Paris, as a symbolic homecoming and a tribute to the patrie. Posters are what JR does. In Vevey, Switzerland, he covered one entire side of a clock tower with Man Ray’s Femme aux cheveux longs. In Havana, Los Angeles, Shanghai, and Cartagena, Spain, he plastered headshots of elderly residents—headshots many stories tall—across the facades of old buildings. He called the project “The Wrinkles of the City.” We love these pictures. We love the way they honor the desire behind any portrait—to eternalize a particular face—and at the same time welcome the wear and tear of weather, smog, graffiti: of life as it passes by.
It’s been ten years since George died in his sleep, after half a century at the helm of the Review. “George,” we say, even those members of the staff who never met him. He looms large in our imaginations—as large as that image gazing across the rue Alexandre Dumas—because he invented the form of the Review and gave it his spirit. “What we are doing that’s new,” he explained in a letter to his parents, “is presenting a literary quarterly in which the emphasis is more on fiction than on criticism, the bane of present quarterlies. Also we are brightening up the issue with artwork.” This from a man who was about to publish Samuel Beckett! George’s magazine was blithely serious and seriously blithe.
One test of a founding editor is whether his magazine can survive him. This was a real question ten years ago, but it was soon answered by George’s successor Philip Gourevitch. Since the beginning of Gourevitch’s stewardship, the Review has grown faster than ever in its history. In the past decade, our circulation has doubled, from the respectable “high four figures” of George’s heyday, to nearly twenty thousand. We have won two National Magazine Awards (a prize that always eluded George, to his loud and justifiable chagrin). Then there are the vast and strange domains of the Internet. In the past month alone, our young Web gazette, The Paris Review Daily, reached 153,143 readers. Every day more than 270,000 people sample our interviews via Twitter (and every day that number grows). Heaven knows what George would make of these developments—they’re puzzling, even to us. Still, we trust he would approve.
In the end, of course, a journal cannot be judged by numbers or awards. It can’t be judged by its legacy either. A pedigree means nothing. Over the years, the Review has launched hundreds of writers, from Philip Roth and Adrienne Rich to Edward P. Jones and David Foster Wallace, but we are only as good as the issue in your hands. By the time the next one arrives, George’s poster will have gone the way of Sitting Bull’s; our hope is that his spirit will guide the Review as long as there is new writing for us to discover, and artwork to brighten it up.
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