Two peculiarities confront those who browse through the premiere issue of New York Writer, now on newsstands on both coasts and a few places in between.
First, many of those who write--or are written about--have nothing to do with New York.
Second, it’s not a writer’s magazine.
Editor and publisher Victor Harwood dismissed the inconsistencies with two figurative sweeps of his hand.
First, “We have absolutely no interest in New York as a place,” he said. Second, “We’re not a magazine for writers, we’re a magazine of writers.”
The title is a metaphor “for the psychological state of mind” and the intellectual tradition once associated with New York, Harwood said. But the magazine expands that tradition geographically to encompass just about anyone from anywhere, and pushes back purist literary boundaries to encompass folk who write rock music lyrics and even for, heaven forbid, film and television.
Finding a Niche
Which may explain why the Winter ’89 issue can be found not beside the New York Review of Books at Book Soup in Hollywood, but rather directly across Sunset Boulevard, nestled amid the fanzines at Tower Records.
“A lot of people think in terms of ‘What niche are you filling?’ ” said Harwood, whose event production company, American Expositions Inc., also serves as publishing company. “A magazine is needed somewhere between Rolling Stone and the New Yorker. New York Writer fits somewhere in there.”
Each issue of the glossy quarterly will focus on a single theme, he said. It’s hard to peg the magazine based on its first uneven issue, devoted to “legends,” but something of its tone can be gleaned from its dedication to John Lennon. It concludes: “To all writers and readers of kind hearts and strong minds, wherever you live and call home, we embrace you as New York Writers.”
Among the odd tidbits: A Gonzo Journalism Contest (the deadline has passed, but Harwood is considering an extension) and a Freedom Watch section, compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists, which includes addressed, tear-out post cards to world leaders protesting the detention of reporter Terry Anderson in Lebanon, and editors Zwelakhe Sisulu in South Africa and Juan Pablo Cardenas in Chile.
Articles run the journalistic/literary gamut, from a serious investigation of poet d.a.levy’s death 18 years ago (printed on 15 foldout pages), to a two-page discussion (they seem serious) of a book that suggests Elvis Presley faked his death by staying in a yoga trance while a wax look-alike was buried in an air-conditioned coffin.
“We have articles on Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, John Lennon and J. F. K.,” Harwood said. “Articles on the exact same subjects may appear in People. But we come from different ends of the world. . . . (New York Writer) is a magazine that shows some reverence for the writer and for the serious consideration of ideas. Nevertheless, we have a sense of humor and we find that anything can be of interest.”
True to Harwood’s explanation of the magazine’s title, the first issue features plenty of non-New Yorkers. Los Angeles is represented by John Rechy, who discusses his Marilyn Monroe-inspired novel, “Marilyn’s Daughter,” and by Frank Lisciandro, editor of “Lost Writings of Jim Morrison, Wilderness,” who writes about his friendship with the legendary Doors singer.
Also included is a personal tribute to a small-scale legend, the late Raymond Carver of Port Angeles, Wash. “Carver had reversed the old and tiresome American trend, the trajectory of writers who flash with early brilliance and promise and then fade, fall apart, are buried under the burden of their success. Carver did his falling apart early . . . he’d licked his problems. . . .”
The “Spring Passion Issue,” due out around the first of April, will feature Brigitte Bardot on the cover and discussions of the Paris literary scene in the 1950s and other passionate topics inside.
A year’s subscription of four issues is $10 from New York Writer, 110 Green St., Suite 703, New York, N.Y. 10012)
Conde Nast Heads West
Readers who prefer their Western writers without the New York trappings will want to check out the Conde Nast Traveler special issue on the “Glory of the West.” Several writers, most of whom live on this side of Chicago, act as guides for what the editors term “American Safaris.” The result is some mighty fine travel writing--the kind that provokes thought as well as armchair wanderlust.
Novelist Tom McGuane, for instance, opens his elegy like this: “I fish all the time when I’m at home; so when I get a chance to go on a vacation, I make sure I get in plenty of fishing.”
William Kittredge heads for Southeast Oregon on horseback and naturalist writer Peter Matthiessen follows the footsteps of George Catlin, the 19th-Century artist who captured the Plains Indians on canvas.
Tim Cahill, whose work usually appears in Rolling Stone and Outside magazines, heads off on a five-day horsepacking trip through the mountains of Montana. Backpacking, he writes, “is an exercise in observing one’s own feet and counting aloud. But a man on horseback has the energy and inclination to notice a profusion of wildflowers or a dust of pollen driven off the trees like mist as wind whistles down a draw.”
And novelist-poet Jim Harrison, off on a car trip through the back country of Nebraska, South Dakota and Montana, observes that “Driving into emptiness keeps you at least a few miles ahead of your neuroses, and by the time they catch up to you when you bed down in the evening, you are too tired to pay any attention to them.”
Also included in the issue is what may well be the last published piece by novelist-naturalist Edward Abbey, who died Tuesday in Tucson, Ariz.
For almost 20 years, Abbey wrote irascible, anti-authority essays on man’s inhumanity to nature for just about every magazine that would publish them--and irascible, anti-authority letters to the editor to those that wouldn’t.
This account of a horseback descent into Utah’s Grand Gulch to observe Indian pictographs is typical Abbey: Folksie yarn spinning mixed with pointed commentary and clear description.
Abbey fans will not be surprised to stumble upon this simple declarative sentence early in his Traveler essay: “It’s a good world.”