Get ready for 'The James Franco Review'

David L. Ulin
Los Angeles Times Book Critic
It had to happen sooner or later: A writer in Seattle has started 'The James Franco Review'

It had to happen sooner or later: A writer in Seattle has started “The James Franco Review.” But wait — the journal is not devoted to the study of James Franco, or to publishing his so-called literary work. The idea, instead, is to create a space for writers to be bold, to operate “as if our work was already worthy of an editor’s attention” — to channel their inner James Franco, in other words.

“Years ago,” writes founding editor Corinne Manning, “my friend Erin and I joked that we should submit some fiction under a boy’s name. Aaron and Carl. A younger professor told us, solemnly, that wasn’t such a bad idea. Neither of us had the guts to do it. But when we started seeing James Franco’s name in magazines, and then saw his book of poetry from Graywolf, we joked again: Let’s submit some fiction under James Franco’s name and see what happens.”

There is, to be sure, a bit of the tongue-in-cheek to Manning’s comments, although “The James Franco Review” is not meant as a joke. Rather, the intent is to encourage writers to stake out their own sense of privilege — if only the privilege to be heard.

That, of course, is a key component of every writer’s toolbox; we must be willing to seize attention, or try to, in a world that doesn’t know we exist. Positive arrogance, I like to call it, the assurance (or faith) that what we are writing is worth a reader’s attention, that there is a point of intersection that will enlarge or challenge both of us.

In that sense, Manning told The Stranger in a recent interview, “The James Franco Review” is less about poking fun at “James Franco as an artist” than looking at the “doors that swing open for the name James Franco” and making them accessible for everyone. What if we all had that access, that profile? What if we felt we could do anything we want?

This is a key distinction: that creativity is not a matter of how the culture views us, but of how we position ourselves. “Create dangerously for those who read dangerously,” Edwidge Danticat urges, in a statement quoted on the journal’s website. The point is to write what we need to write, to operate, as Manning notes in The Stranger, from a position “of radical naïveté — a way of trying to clean the slate and start from a sincere place of excitement about new writing.”

“The James Franco Review” will rely on a rotating crew of guest editors, both to share the workload and to avoid falling into ruts. Whether this will work or not remains to be seen, but it’s an interesting dynamic, suggesting a journal that is more about the collective than any overarching editorial sensibility or voice.

How do we get new voices into the conversation? How do we open up the playing field? The answer, Manning suggests, is to bend it like James Franco — which starts with claiming a place at the table, even if that means building a table of one’s own.

Twitter: @davidulin

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