Issue 171, Fall 2004
When The Paris Review’s tireless editor, George Plimpton, died last September, we expected many people to think the magazine would, or should, die with him. What we did not expect was an uprising of anxiety about the magazine’s future—the consensus that it had to go on.
For most of the fall, the mailbag arrived with the usual manuscripts and bills. But it also came stuffed with letters—from writers, former editors, and longtime subscribers—all exhorting us to carry on. Some even sent donations; one, a five-dollar bill.
What was so urgent about keeping the magazine alive? We got the answer in the nicest way possible from a frequent contributor who attended a writers’ retreat hosted by The Paris Review last spring. When I see my work in the magazine, he said, it makes me feel like I’m a part of something.
And that seemed right. Among George’s gifts was his ability to welcome anyone and everyone into a community of people who care deeply about writing—a place where the work of writers who toil separately, alone at their desks, comes together and begins a conversation, not only among the contributors in each issue, but with those who came before and promise to come next.
Continuing the conversation without George has meant rethinking the details and trappings of what we do. What it has not meant is changing the conversation itself. The Paris Review’s mandate has been the same for fifty years. First and foremost, this magazine is for writers; the editors’ task is to support and celebrate them, especially at the beginning of their careers. But also as they move forward, venturing stories that are creative, risky, new. And finally, when these writers are willing to teach us what they have learned, we invite them to sit down for a Writers at Work interview. In the pages of an ideal issue you can see a writer in every stage of his or her career.
In its fifty-first year of publication, The Paris Review continues to search for new ways to bring together writers and readers. To that end, next month we’ll launch the DNA of Literature project: a complete online archive of the Writers at Work interview series. Available, it should be noted, for free. Years ago, when we first started discussing the archive, George liked to imagine a far-flung subscriber, who, for some reason, he placed in Bangladesh, downloading an interview with Dorothy Parker. Given the enthusiasm and support we’ve received for this project, we find the scenario more plausible each day.
One last piece of business: The Hadada Prize, awarded for the first time last year to Barney Rosset for his contribution to American letters, will be given this year to William Styron. Having penned the magazine’s manifesto (such as it is) in a letter to the editor that appeared in the first issue, Styron seems a fitting choice, allowing us the opportunity, as we look toward the future, to pause and acknowledge the past.
We hope you enjoy the issue, the magazine’s new look and old soul, as much as we enjoyed putting it together.