I took a daring (for me) and sneaky step a few months ago and subscribed to The New Yorker magazine. Feeling a fraud, I wanted to read the magazine that is for the upper echelon of nonfiction and modern writers. I proclaim that I’m one of the group, but deep down, I really think I’m just a poser.
I’ve always viewed The New Yorker as the wealthy, smarty pants, I’m-wearing-a-monocle literary writers. It wasn’t acceptable for the charlatans like me. But then the dim light bulb dawned…well, duh, why not learn from them? Isn’t that the point? To soak up the knowledge of the greats (and not-so-greats)? Hence, the subscription.
It arrived in my mailbox full of glitz and gloss. I reverently held it in my hands, breathing the scent of newsprint, imagining I was already a better writer. Then I began to read. What wit! What talent! What smart ass sarcasm! What thoughtfulness! What inspiration! Um, okay…now I am completely intimidated by the bunch and maybe I shouldn’t even dream of being a nonfiction writer. I can’t compete or even compare. And it’s arriving in the mail every week? What the hell was I thinking?
And the history…. The New Yorker debuted on February 21, 1925. It was founded by Harold Ross and his wife, Jane Grant, a New York Times reporter. Ross wanted to create a sophisticated humor magazine different from perceivably ‘corny’ humor publications such as Judge, where he had worked, or Life. Ross partnered with entrepreneur Raoul H. Fleischmann to establish the F-R Publishing Company and established the magazine’s first offices at 25 West 45th Street in Manhattan. Ross edited the magazine until his death in 1951. During the early, occasionally precarious years of its existence, the magazine prided itself on its cosmopolitan sophistication. Harold Ross famously declared in a 1925 prospectus for the magazine: “It has announced that it is not edited for the old lady in Dubuque.”
Although the magazine never lost its touches of humor, it soon established itself as a pre-eminent forum for serious fiction literature and journalism. Shortly after the end of World War II, John Hersey‘s essay Hiroshima filled an entire issue. In subsequent decades the magazine published short stories by many of the most respected writers of the 20th and 21st centuries, including Ann Beattie, John Cheever, Roald Dahl, John McNulty, Alice Munro, Haruki Murakami, Vladimir Nabokov, John O’Hara, Philip Roth, J.D. Salinger, Irwin Shaw, James Thurber, John Updike, Eudora Welty, and E. B. White. Publication of Shirley Jackson‘s “The Lottery” drew more mail than any other story in The New Yorker’s history.
Wrote Tom Wolfe about the magazine’s style: “The New Yorker style was one of leisurely meandering understatement, droll when in the humorous mode, tautological and litotical when in the serious mode, constantly amplified, qualified, adumbrated upon, nuanced and renuanced, until the magazine’s pale-gray pages became High Baroque triumphs of the relative clause and appository modifier.”
Use a dictionary to look up those words. Then it’ll make sense. Basically put, this magazine is pretty damn well-respected and you better be able to write to be printed in it. It took some doing, but I convinced myself that I can write like those that submit to The New Yorker.
I WILL be published in The New Yorker. Someday. Hopefully soon. Maybe after I finish my book. Or maybe I’ll wait until the kids are older and gone. Actually, I think waiting until I have enough life history…say…another 50 years…yep, that sounds good.
See? I know I can do it.