As someone new to the world of literary magazines, I found T. S. Eliot’s “The Idea of the Literary Review” to be a helpful first reading to set guidelines and give warnings for the creation of a literary magazine. Eliot sets clear (although loftily worded) standards for literary magazines to follow, warning those who work on them away from extremes and encouraging them to find good balance in the level and content of the contributions to the magazine. The selection should not be so wide it seems arbitrary or so narrow that only one idea or point of view is represented. It should also not be so general that it seems to include just any contribution or so strictly “literary” that it destroys the life of the literature itself, making it inaccessible to the readers.
Basically, a literary magazine needs clear direction.
A passion for the work and literature is not enough on its own—the mission and goals of the magazine need to be clearly defined to make a cohesive, enjoyable, and lasting publication. This is something that would be good for everyone at Grub Street to keep in mind as we work toward creating our own volume. Eliot also makes good points as he discusses how literary magazines should not take a specific stand on social, political, or theological matters and should instead provide works of unknown and well-read authors alike with different backgrounds and opinions. However, I disagree when he suggests avoiding pieces with subjects of “political and economic controversy” altogether. That may have worked when he was an editor, but that is no longer sound advice and may not even be possible. In today’s society, nearly all writings are political regardless of intention. I feel that in trying to keep politics and other strong ideas completely out of the magazine we would be falling into another mistake Eliot warns of by separating the literature too far from the real world to be relevant.