Electric Literature, the Brooklyn-based literary journal, yesterday launched Recommended Reading, “a free digital magazine that publishes one story a week, each chosen by a great author or editor.” The premiere story is a new one by The Flame Alphabet‘s Ben Marcus. We spoke to editors Halimah Marcus and Benjamin Samuel about Tumblr, endorsements and long reads on the web.
So, are you publishing new stories, or previously published work?
Halimah Marcus: Both. Guest editors may choose unpublished or previously published work—journals, for instance, will select a story from their archives. When it’s Electric Literature’s turn to curate, which happens every fourth week, we’ll publish original fiction. Our first story, “Watching Mysteries with My Mother” by Ben Marcus, operates in part on a philosophical level, but resonates viscerally. The goal, whether or not the story has been published, is to distinguish extraordinary pieces of fiction through personal recommendations.
What are you looking for from your guest editors?
HM: Guest editors of Recommended Reading will recommend stories they believe advance the guard of fiction. Future guest editors like Michael Cunningham, Aimee Bender, Nathan Englander, Stephen O’Connor, and Jim Shepard have proven themselves by writing fiction people will remember for their entire lives. Their endorsements of emerging voices have the power to make people pay attention.
Recommended Reading was partially inspired by an anthology that Ron Hansen and Jim Shepard edited in 1994 called You’ve Got to Read This, in which “Contemporary American writers introduce the stories that held them in awe.” Many of the stories in that anthology are classics, like “The Aleph” by Borges or “The Dead” by Joyce. But fiction isn’t only about learning from the masters, it’s also about being inspired by one’s contemporaries and peers, which is where we come in.
Why did you settle on Tumblr as your interface?
Benjamin Samuel: As an indie publisher, we know it’s vital to communicate directly with our audience, to use social media to reach them where they are already are—we’ve published Rick Moody on Twitter and Israeli writer Alex Epstein to Facebook. Rather than use a more socially isolated system like WordPress, Tumblr allows us to publish online and reach a built-in audience of millions. Tumblr users can follow Recommend Reading, and by reblogging and liking our stories, they’re building in a new level of personal curation, which is central to the mission of the magazine.