The Role of Literary Journals

By Erin Jones


It wasn’t until my first year of graduate school that I became familiar with literary journals. I had entered the MFA program at Emerson College after working in corporate marketing and had little knowledge of the publishing world in general. But there was a marketing position open at Ploughshares to which I applied and was hired for. In my time at Ploughshares,  I went from being a novice about the literary magazine world to knowing its intricacies and quirks, its community and reputation.

But the knowledge that I think will always stick with me from my time at Ploughshares is that literary journals are an enigma. They aren’t lucrative. They play to a very niche market. They are often run by a small staff of part-time employees or volunteers. And for whoever is producing them, they are a labor of love. Yet, despite all this–or maybe because all this–literary journals are one of the most unique and vital literary art forms.

The work that appears in literary magazines is special because it’s not being guided by target audiences or profit margins. The pieces that make it to the pages of a literary journal were born, I believe, from a certain need. The type of need only an artist knows when they have an idea in their brain and won’t be satisfied until they’ve brought that idea to fruition.

But the writing then makes another artistic transformation with the physical act of being included in a literary journal. In the same way that paintings or sculptures in a museum exhibit speak to one another, when a piece of writing appears in a literary journal it is seen in conversation with the words and themes that populate the rest of the issue. The voices of the contributors amplify each other.

I could talk about literary journals forever (I won’t, don’t worry) because they hold such a special place in my heart–that’s why when I was asked to be the Editor-in-chief of The Platform Review (ARTS By The People’s very own literary journal) I was ecstatic. But, if I’m being honest, I was also a little nervous; literary journals are a special genre, and I knew that I needed to do them justice. But I feel fortunate that I have the ARTS By The People mission to calm my nerves. It’s an organization focused on encouraging artistic expression and building artistic communities. To me, those are two of the main pillars of a literary magazine.

I’m looking forward to my  journey ahead with The Platform Review, and I consider myself lucky to be the guiding hand that puts something as unique and important as a literary journal out into the world.