The Coffin Factory is a new thrice-yearly lit mag out of Park Slope, edited by Randy Rosenthal (a sometime contributor here) and Laura Isaacman, two self-described “people who love books [and] products of the MFA-Industrial complex.” The first issue, just out this month, features photography, interviews with Justin Taylor and the publishers of New Directions, as well as fiction and essays—in fact, fiction by Joyce Carol Oates and José Saramago, and essays by Milan Kundera, Roberto Bolaño and Rabindranath Tagore, among other authors who’re more local and in some cases more living. I emailed with Rosenthal and Isaacman recently.
Why “The Coffin Factory”? What does the name connote?
Though there is reasoning behind what Joyce Carol Oates calls “the most incongruous title,” we think it’s far more interesting to hear what other people think, as everyone has different associations. Pablo Medina thought there was an unusual karmic connection between himself and the magazine because he lives in a converted carriage factory where hearses were once made. Edith Grossman asked us if The Coffin Factory is where The Exquisite Corpse now rests. One professor thought the title came from a line in a Dickens story, where a boy sleeps in a coffin factory. People have suggested literary allusions to Gogol, Faulkner, or Poe, none of whom we were thinking about when we came up with the name, but connections we appreciate. What do you think The Coffin Factory means?
You’ve assembled some impressive names for this first issue, including a couple of dead Nobel laureates. How’d you swing that?
Well, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt sent us José Saramago’s Cain, and as soon as we read the first chapter of his last novel, we knew it was important to have this be the first piece in the first issue, as it is a rewriting of Genesis—one of the first stories in Western Civilization. Similarly, it was also crucial to feature an essay about the significance of literature, and it was fortuitous that Harvard Press sent us an authoritative and moving essay on the subject by Rabindranath Tagore. In other words, we had a specific vision, which included very significant pieces, and if we couldn’t make the magazine in this way, then we weren’t going to do it all.
What kind of balance do you see future issues striking between world literary culture and the writers emerging from our own fecund scene?
We’re big fans of literature in translation, but we also love many voices coming out of North America and aim to always keep this balance. We have one of the most, if not the most, diverse list of authors of any literary journal or magazine, as we feature writers and artists from about a dozen countries. There are marquee names, but also writers whose careers we’re watching grow in our backyard. There are young first time novelists like Bonnie Nadzam and Andrés Neuman, as well as already established young writers like Justin Taylor and Bernard Quiriny, who is blowing up in France. Then we have our Market Fresh Selection, spotlighting a writer who does not have an agent and has not been widely published but knows how to tell a damn good story. Same goes for our art; we have artists that paint for pleasure and we have artists whose pieces sell for upwards of fifty grand.
There is also the inclusion of the publishing industry, which is so crucial for the conversation between readers and writers. So far, one of the most talked-about features is our interview with New Directions. Issue two is already shaping up to have a similar balance.
What do you hope to do with subsequent issues that you haven’t done already?
Well, we plan to have a live HD TV interactive blog that pops up from the middle of the magazine, complete with 3-D glasses and a Tamagotchi.
Also, more white space.