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 Guest editors may choose unpublished or previously published work—journals, for instance, will select a story from their archives.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.
What are some of the presses you're working with? Did you target them specifically?
HM: We have over twenty independent publishing partners and counting, which range from new literary journals to established presses. Over the summer, we’ll publish content curated by A Public Space, Akashic, Graywolf, The Common, PEN America Journal, and New Directions. We approached these publishers because we admire their missions as well as their content, and now publishers are approaching us, which is exciting. There are so many great indies out there that it seems like there is a lifetime supply of worthwhile content, even for a weekly magazine.
Do you worry about getting readers to look at long-form work on the Internet?
BS: There’s so much content buzzing around us all the time, long-form is probably more welcome as a result. People are constantly toggling back and forth between Twitter, Gchat, et al., but long-form is a respite from the frenzy. The idea that technology has caused our attention spans to wither is a misconception: The Atavist and Longreads have already proven that people are willing to engage with in-depth nonfiction in digital formats, and there’s a similar opportunity for fiction. Once a story captures your attention, it doesn’t matter if you’re reading it online or in paperback. Recommended Reading will be available online as well in ePub and Kindle versions, and we’re certain that the fiction we publish will captivate readers in any format.
Check out Recommended Reading at recommendedreading.tumblr.com.
Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart