What Happened to the Best African American Literary Magazines?

I’m a collector.   My family calls it hoarding.  While I’m a big proponent of electronic books, I still love to surround myself with books and magazines.  Recently I had to admit the space required to maintain such an extravagance was too costly and becoming aesthetically unappealing.   As a result, I’ve either given away or tossed hundreds of old magazines.  I still have hundreds of books in boxes ready to go to anyone interested. (*see note at end of article)

Like any hoarder, worth their salt, I could not purge myself completely.   I managed to hold onto hundreds of books.  I also drew a line with first issues of any book related magazines.   It was these 1st issues that motivated me to write this blog post.

Quarterly Black Review of Books Volume 1, Number 1 August 1993
Quarterly Black Review of Books Volume 1, Number 1 August 1993

Like an old photograph, each of these 1st issues conjures up a wide range of memories and nostalgic feelings.  When I look at these magazines today I still experience the hope and promise they offered.  The hope came from an understanding that the coverage of books and stories written by Black people was a very rare thing.  Each of these magazines covered the wealth, and depth of our stories.  For me they were, and still are, a source of pride.

While I am excited to share information about these magazines, I’m also disappointed when I realize that most are no longer being published.  An even greater source of disappointment is, despite more books being published by Black writers than ever before, there are fewer platforms (television, magazines, newspapers, websites, bookstores) showcasing this work than there were just 5 years ago.

Here are a few of the first issues of magazines I have in my collection.  I have been a staunch supporter of most of them since their inception.  I have contributed content to, or have been featured in articles, in a few of them.  I have subscribed to, sold subscriptions and individual issues, at street fairs and on AALBC.com for most of these publications.

This is not to suggest that I liked everything they’ve published or all the editorial decisions they made.  They are, however, trailblazing publications and I love each of them.

Black Issues Book Review Premiere Issue 1999

Black Issues Book Review Premiere Issue - January - February 1999

Here I share a portion of my experiences and thoughts on a few of the first editions in my collection.

The first time I saw the first issue of Quarterly Black Review of Books (better known as QBR).  I was in a Brooklyn barber shop, waiting to get my hair cut.  I saw this broadsheet newspaper with nothing but information about Black writers in it.  All I could remember was thinking was WOW!

Max Rodriquez, founded this terrific publication in 1993.  The premiere issue measured 14.75″ x 11″ and was loaded with information.  The cover art was Malvin Gray Johnson’s 1934 oil painting the “Postman”.  QBR’s premier issue highlighted Rita Dove who, in 1993, was named Poet Laureate by the Library of Congress.

My copy of this magnificent work was a present from my dear friend and colleague Linda Duggins.  Linda and Max Rodriguez would go on to co-found the Harlem Book Fair.

Black Issues Book Review (BIBR) was founded in 1998 by William E. Cox, Adrienne Ingrum, and Susan McHenry.  The premiere issue debuted in 1999.  The launch party was held in a Borders Bookstore in midtown Manhattan.  It was one of the first industry events that I attended after launching AALBC.com.  I did not realize it at the time, but many of the country’s top Black publishing professionals were in attendance — people I would come to know and respect over the next decade.

Mosaic Literary Magazine

Mosaic Literary Magazine - Preview Issue - February 1998

BIBR’s first issue featured the legendary author Octavia Butler.  BIBR did not pick some over exposed celebrity, or trendy rapper, to grace the cover.  They selected a talented writer (the author of one of my favorite books Kindred).  This signaled to me that BIBR was serious about showcasing talent.  In fact, in 1999, Black Issues Book Review was named one of “the ten best new magazines” by The American Library Journal from more than a thousand new publications.

In June of 2005, QBR: The Black Book Review and Black Issues Book Review announced an intent to join forces.   Unfortunately, the QBR and BIBR alliance never bore fruit.   In March of 2006, BIBR announced that it had been acquired by Target Market News, Inc.  Ultimately QBR became a online publication.  Neither magazine would continue as print publications beyond 2006.

Mosaic Literary Magazine (Mosaic) was launched by Ron Kavanaugh in 1998.  Given the history of similar magazines that have come before and after, it is truly a testament to both Ron’s dedication to his mission, and his skill as an entrepreneur, that he has kept Mosaic in print for almost 14 years.

ANANSI: Fiction of the African Diaspora

ANANSI: Fiction of the African Diaspora - Premiere Issue - Winter 1999

I first discovered Mosaic online through it’s sister website Mosaicbooks.com.  I asked Ron for permission to publish, a list of Black owned bookstores he maintained on mosaicbooks.com.  Ron replied, “yes”, emphasizing that, “…this information needs to be shared”.  I knew immediately I was dealing with a conscious brother.  It would be months before we would meet in person, during a chance encounter in a small independent bookstore.  It was during that first meeting that we also discovered we graduated from the same high school, in the same year.  We have been close friends and business associates ever since.

ANANSI: Fiction of the African Diaspora was Founded in February 1999 and published by Sheree Renee Thomas, Angeli Rasbury, and Martin Simmons.  The first issue, featuring cover art by John Biggers, included original short fiction by writers of African descent.

I purchased this numbered (#495), first issue, in 1999 during the ANANSI launch party.  I would go on to work with the publishers Sheree and Angeli on a number of projects.  One of my favorite collaborations was with Sheree; we hosted a performance by Chrysalis Theatre Company of Mindscape during one of AALBC.com’s Brownstone Series events.

Lorraine and James: Global Urban Literature - Vol. 1, Issue 1 - 2005

Lorraine and James: Global Urban Literature was published in 2005.  The tri-annual publication published and edited by Jasia Madden was a high quality, well reviewed publication.

Honestly I’d lost track of this gem of a magazine.  I searched and found this message, the final entry, from the Lorraine and James blog, dated April of 2006:

Effective immediately, Lorraine and James is on hiatus. We are not sure how long this break will last or if we will have to simply call it a wrap – that remains to be seen.

As Editor, I appreciate all of the support and encouragement that I encountered along the way.

Best to all of you on your journey – Writer, may you find the prefect rhythm in your voice. Reader, may you discover and be changed by these worlds within great stories; worlds we might only dream of otherwise.

Yours,

Jasai
Wordjunkie/Editor/Friend
Lorraine and James

SLR: Street Literature Review

SLR: Street Literature Review - Vol. 1 - Fall 2007

As far as I can tell, Vol. 1 Issue 2 of Lorraine and James was never released.

SLR: Street Literature Review was founded by Jason Claiborne, and Anthony White.  I first saw this magazine at the Harlem Book Fair.  Someone handed me the 2nd issue and I walked around until I found the SLR table and secured the inaugural issue shown here.

Editor-in-chief Blaine Martin pulled together a smart, visually appealing and informative magazine.  The SLR team elevated a genre with the introduction of this magazine in 2007 — at a time where there were few other magazines showcasing Black book and authors.  SLR demonstrated that they were the authoritative voice for Street or Hip-Hop Literature.

As far as I can tell SLR has published three issues since their inception.  Indications are they plan to continue.  I truly hope so.

Fire!! - First Issue

Fire!! - First Issue - November 1926

Fire!!  Devoted to Younger Negro Artists was a quarterly magazine first published in November 1926 and edited by Wallace Thurman.  Thurman’s effort were supported by Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Gwendolyn Bennett, Aaron Douglas, Richard Bruce and John Davis

The first issue, was the only issue of Fire!! ever published.

My copy of Fire!!, unfortunately, is just a replica of the original 1926 publication.  The content of Fire!!, relatively mild by today’s standards, was quite controversial in it’s day.  Fire! addressed sensitive issues directly including homosexuality, colorism in the Black community and prostitution.

The following quote best summarizes the importance of Fire!!:

At a time when Black writers were dependent on White editors and publishers, Wallace Thurman had the courage and foresight to plan and publish a quarterly magazine to provide opportunities for new talents. –source of quote

Killen Review of Arts & Letters

Killen Review of Arts & Letters - Fred Beauford, Editor - Published March 2010

Almost 100 years later this very same courage is  needed more than ever before.

Any success these magazines enjoyed is a function of their ability to corral the talents of writers, editors, photographers and other professionals to produce a quality publication.  Of course a quality publication is not enough.

Magazines, especially our book and literary magazines need to be actively supported.  Sure subscribing or making financial contributions are important but,  we can also contribute our time and energy by helping to promote magazines that we enjoy and encouraging others to do the same.

I’ve also observed the most successful magazines, the ones that make it over the long haul, have figured out ways to do two things; (1) Show their supporters that they are appreciated and (2) Develop alliances with other entities even other magazines.

There are so many other magazines I could have written about.  Some were left out simply because I did not have a copy of their first issue.  Below I’ve included a short list of other literary or book magazines still in print:

If you are aware of other book or literary magazines not listed please post them in the comments section.  If I get enough entries perhaps I’ll write a part 2 — especially if I’m sent a copy of the first issue!

________________________________________

Admittedly this last publication, a comic book, does not belong with the rest.  But it does relate to the special feelings associated with 1st issues and speaks to why people get really excited about reading.

I’m old enough to remember, when it was still a big deal to see a Black person on television and an average reader could know the names of all the Black writers published by the major publishing houses.  This was a time were there were less than a handful of Black comic book characters and certainly no super heroes with their  own comic book series.

Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #1

Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #1 Published June 1972

In walks Luke Cage, Hero for Hire.  The first issue was published by Marvel Comics in June of 1972 and featured the cover art of John Romita, Sr.

I purchased this comic and maybe the next 20 or so until I lost interest in comic books about about 35 years ago.  My copy is not nearly as neat as the version depicted here, but it is still just as valuable to me.

Cage was the only super hero that I wanted to relate to — because he was Black!  He was from Harlem and the action took place my neighborhood.

In hindsight, the fist Black super hero comic book series was introduced to capitalize on the popularity of Blaxploitation films of the era.  From the eyes of this young boy, eager to see a Black superhero, Luke Cage was the man!

________________________________________

*Note about my books: I do have several hundred books in boxes ready for donation.  If you are driving distance from Philadelphia area, and would like these books, please email me at troy@aalbc.com.  You’ll need to be able to transport the books yourself and be prepared to you to take all of the books.  The vast majority of book were written by African American writers have have been published within the last 10 years.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

About Troy

Troy D. Johnson is the President, founder and webmaster of AALBC.com, LLC (The African American Literature Book Club). Launched in March of 1998, AALBC.com has grown to become the largest and most frequently visited website dedicated to books and films by and about people of African descent.
This entry was posted in Magazines, Mosaic Magazine, reading and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
  • http://buttontapper.com Laura

    Great post! But Troy, please don’t chuck all your books. If you haven’t had an eager beaver in the Philly area snap them up yet, I’m sure you can donate them either to a grateful public library or used bookstore. If all else fails, publish a list of items you’ve got so that interested parties can grab them on a first-come, first-served basis for shipping + $1 or something. I’m definitely curious about your bookshelf!

    • http://aalbc.com Troy

      Thanks Laura. Have no fear I have never thrown away a book. I did get a serious inquiry this afternoon. The problem is the book were never catalogued and I don’t have the time or resources to do it now. Most entities I research for donations were too costly, had too many conditions or simply could not deal with the bulk.

      • http://thewonderreflex.blogspot.com Zachary Bos

        I’m afraid I couldn’t do much with books, but if you’re hoping to get rid of some literary magazines and ephemera, I’d love a reason to come into Philadelphia for a day-trip.

  • Gwendolyn Holley

    That was a wonderful walk through these publications. I always bought Black Issues and really looked forward to my trip to the bookstore to purchase it. The writing was good and the featured writers lead me into some of the most satisfying reading I’ve ever done. I really miss this publication. Thanks to this article, I think my next purchase will be Mosaic because I’ve subscribed to the online newsletter for years. Again, thanks for this journey.

    • http://aalbc.com Troy

      Hi Gwendolyn, I’m glad you enjoyed the retrospective. I recieved quite a bit of feedback (all encouraging). I will write a follow up in the future. I hope to have some encouraging updates about BIBR.

  • Tina Callender

    I too have a hard time parting with my collection of books, and magazines. I have my copies of QBR and every BIBR, Mosaic and Calalloo. I remember reading the first issue of BIBR on the A train and giving the subscription card to a sister who was so excited to see such a publication. I was also invited by Max and Linda to be part of a focus group when The Harlem Book Fair was entering its’ 4 or 5 year (?), they were interested in finding out which direction its supporters wanted the Fair to go. I thank yu and Ron for being here now to fill that void.
    When I decided to weed thru my collection I was able to find a woman at NYU who took donated books to the prisons. I will see if Ican find that information for you.

    • http://aalbc.com Troy

      Tina I’ll include Calalloo in a follow up piece. Regarding donating to prisons, I’d need to go through the books removing the hard covered ones, some prisons have rules about content which would exclude other titles. I’m looking for someone to come get all of them in one shot :-)

  • http://www.blaqueademic.org TheBlaqueProfessor

    One of the reasons these once fabulous magazines and journals have disappeared is readership. Over the years, fewer Blacks have been interested in reading the intellectual journals and have replaced them with those less worthy, such as Vibe and the ‘new’ Source magazine. However, even those Black mags that have survived, particularly those published by the Johnson’s, are no longer following their original missions. When I was a young girl, I bought Essence because there was always a sista with an Afro and brown skin on the cover; there were always articles that explained to single Black women how to get into business and get a job and buy the clothes they needed for that job with little money. Then Fashion Fair and Paris seemed to take over. The women’s skins got lighter and lighter, the hair-straighter and straighter, the clothing advertised became more and more expensive, and in short, the magazine stopped talking to women in my family and started a discussion with upper class black women. Moreover, while it may be nice to have Black Issues Book Review, it was better to have Black Issues in Higher Education! But, what did they do? They changed that to “Diverse” Issues in Higher Education and I dropped my subscription after three back-to-back issues focused on Hispanics. Then there’s my gripe about TheSource. I followed, read, and bought TheSource when it was a newsletter! Then, somehow, Benzino was pushed out, replaced by Jews, and like BET, it was ballgame. I gave up that subscription as well. I also paid for a subscription to a Black scholarly journal–Black Scholar. They took my money online and I never received ANYTHING from them–not even the dang journal! However, there are still some journals around, but it takes a bit of digging. Check out the list on this link–> http://www.library.illinois.edu/afx/aajournals.htm –> and perhaps there’s something waiting for you! Thanks for reading the rant and happy reading:-)

    • http://aalbc.com Troy

      TheBlaqueProfessor thanks for sharing the link to the journals (very useful) and your insights.

      As you know many of the issues you raised are a consequence of those entities persuing money and subordinating the “original mission” a minor secondary consideration. The impact is evident across all platforms including the web I blogged about this recently: http://aalbc.it/100bestsites

      For example, my greatest challenge with AALBC.com is keeping it a profitable entity while maintaining my mission. Because I’m focused on books, authors (often obscure but important), subjects with limited apeeal (like this one on literary magazines), I will rarely get the attention and certainly not the direct support of the largest “Black” platforms of the world; BET, Essence, BlackPlanet, or AOL/HuffPost/BlackVoices, whateever…

      The support will have to come from people who can appreciate the content. Often those most willing and able to provide support just need to be reminded that it is critically important for mission driven entities to survive — so support your favorite literary Magazine (and websites too).

  • http://www.BreenaClarke.com Breena Clarke

    Troy — am salivating at the thought of what your titles must be. How many books are you talking about? I probably couldn’t take them all. This was a great post — much good information and perspective.

    • http://aalbc.com Troy

      Thanks Breena. Let me assure you I held on to the goodies ;-)

  • breathebooks

    Thinking out the box here, I do wonder if an enthusiastic HBCU student might be interested in some type of historical stewardship of this important history. A grant writing grad student might acquire funds to facilitate such an effort to be held at the library of the institution. Cataloging and possibly digitizing part of the works may be possible.

    • http://aalbc.com Troy

      Hi Breathebooks, that is a great idea. To some extent this is already being done. Some of the publishers have taken on the task of digitizing their own work, making it available for download and review online.

      Third parties have digitized other magazines and they are available for sale or research. Johns Hopkins’ Project Muse or High Beam Research are a couple of examples.

      I’d imagine there varying issues of copyright making the creation of a single repository a legal nightmare – even though it is technically quite feasible provided the original copies are still available.

  • http://www.ekeretallie.com Ekere

    Nice post, Troy!

    Remember “Freedom Rag?” Amazing work published in that journal. I still have a copy.

    • http://aalbc.com Troy

      Hi Ekere, I actually don’t recall ever seeing “Freedom Rag” However, as a result of this article someone has offered to provide me a copy of the first edition for a follow up post on this literary magazines. Thanks for your positive comment.

      • John M

        I remember Freedom Rag! Went to a party of theirs on the corner of Broadway and Prince with my friend Steve Martin (RIP), where I met Mc Lyte, a pre-Fugees Lauryn Hill who had just starred in a play at the Apollo written by a friend of mine (their first theater production apparently) and Danny Simmons, who later became a client and good friend. To this day, Danny remains upset that they hijacked the party which was actually a Rush Arts fundraiser which Freedom Rag was a beneficiary. But everyone remembers it as the Freedom Rag party!

        • http://aalbc.com Troy

          Wow John that is a nice piece of history. As you know Danny is still an important supporter of the arts. Here is a coincidence: This very morning I was editing some video from an African Voices event in Sag Harbor. Danny Simmons & Ekere Tallie read poetry. Unfortunately I could not use the video :-(

          • John M

            Sorry – Broadway and Houston

  • http://www.gloriamallette.com Gloria Mallette

    Hi, Troy.
    Memories: The very first review of my first book was written up in QBR back in 1996. That was the first time I knew what anyone thought of my writing. The fact that our literary magazines have or are disappearing saddens me. Which is why AALBC is so important. Keep it going.

    • http://aalbc.com Troy

      Gloria, Thanks for sharing. Part of my motivation for writing this article was to celebrate the accomplishments of these publications, but I also wanted to raise the awareness what we have lost or in jeopardy of losing. Main stream media will never cover these issues — there is no money in it

      If these magazines are important, truly important, we have to go out our way to support them. We often treat out own entities as if they are second rate, not realizing it is the lack of support that constrains growth.

      On the other side of the coin our magazines (websites too), have to get out of competition mode and understand that collective support is mandatory for our survival. The real competition is not each other, but the large corporations — and they are kicking our collective butts right now. They control the “Black” content we see. We also know they will never publish a review of a “Gloria Mallete” novel the way QBR or AALBC.com has. Your potential audience is diminished. We all lose.

      If you get a chance read an article I wrote about Black Book Websites: Black Book Websites Need Love Too.

  • http://facebook,tonylindsay tony Lindsay

    another good magazine, ‘Conversations Magazine’, a sort of new piece published by Cyrus Web

  • Pingback: PEN.org » Blog Archive PEN Weekly Roundup - PEN.org()

  • http://www.neworldreview.com Fred Beauford

    Black Creation, which I founded at NYU in 1968, is considered by most historians who studies these things, as the best black arts magazine ever published anywhere in the world. Back issues are being sold on places like Ebay for up to $750.00. But the hard nosed fact is that it is hard work finding readership for publications like that.The reason why those few black magazines that stay in business do so, is they stick to music, sports, movie and television, which seems to be what blacks want to read about.

    • http://aalbc.com Troy

      Fred do you have a first issue of Black creation on hand, that I can scan? I don’t have a lot of older publications. I plan to talk about American Rag http://aalbc.it/aragmag in the next installment. American Rag was first published in 1978.

      Regarding the reading tastes of the masses I’d have to agree. But there is still a large enough audience for those interested in the arts. We just have to work a little hard at promotion.

      We also have to engage in the infinitely more difficult task of educating folks why the arts in general and literature specifically — espeically that produced by Black folks is important. Otherwise all we will be left with is the celebrity nonsense which currently dominates the media.

  • http://agatepublishing.com Doug Seibold

    Thanks for this terrific and very informative retrospective. I’d like to add that I, too, was a Luke Cage (aka Power Man) fan–wish I had a copy of that origin issue.

  • http://blackadelicpop.blogspot.com/2011/10/open-erotica.html Michael A. Gonzales

    Really dug this wonderful and informative article. A few years ago my good friend writer/editor Miles Marshall Lewis edited a cool hip-hop literary magazine called Bronx Biannual that survived for two issues. Last year, respected scribe Greg Tate published the equally great Coon Bidness literary magazine. Although the title itself was a bit problematic, the magazine itself was quite groundbreaking.

    http://www.akashicbooks.com/bronxbiannual.htm

    http://www.amoeba.com/blog/2007/07/jamoeblog/-new-hip-hop-lit-bronx-biannual-no-2.html

    http://blackadelicpop.blogspot.com/2010_09_01_archive.html

  • http://www.blackthreads.blogspot.com Kyra

    Troy –

    Thanks for your post. I also have a couple of the issues you mentioned above. I LOVED QBR and Emerge! I also have a couple Black British magazines, including one with a delightful interview with a group of senior citizens who self-published their own book back in the late 1990s. I also cherish a British photography magazine that had an issue devoted to Black women photographers – again in the 1990s.

    Best, Kyra

  • http://aalbc.com Troy Johnson

    It is hard to believe I wrote this article 3 years ago. Today I stumbled across a follow up to my article on Clutch Magazine’s website: Black Lit Mags to Watch (June 26, 2012) by Stacia L. Brown http://www.clutchmagonline.com/2012/06/black-lit-mags-to-watch/

    The article, though acknowledging the losses I cited, was a bit more optimistic and mentioned the following magazines; (1) Blackberry: a magazine: http://www.blackberryamagazine.com/ (2) Union Station http://www.unionstationmag.com/ (3) Specter Magazine http://www.spectermagazine.com/

    Unfortunately, the trend continues….

    Since I wrote this Blog post I’ve created a site called Huria Search. It is a ad free website whose sole purpose is to promote Book sellers, Magazines and newspapers that serve the Black community: http://huria.org/

  • Riccardo

    Hey Troy
    what are the American literary magazines with African American editors at the helm? I know of Virginia Quarterly and Prairie Shooner. This is the real problem, that among the hundreds of reviews and literary journals in the US very almost none have African American editors.

    • http://aalbc.com/ Troy Johnson

      @Richardo I’m sure you are right. I wish I had the resources to collect the information and report on it. I do however think the best solution would be to create the publications that reflect the personnel and content we think is missing and needed in the marketplace.