What’s happening to CalArts’ literary journal Black Clock?

Black Clock cover
An image of Humphrey Bogart adorns the cover of Black Clock issue No. 15.
(Black Clock)

This post has been updated. Please see below for details.

The California Institute of the Arts launched its literary journal Black Clock in 2004 with pieces by some of the best writers of the moment: David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Lethem, Aimee Bender and Rick Moody. There were, of course, others -- that’s what a good literary journal does, combine boldface literary names with new writers just finding their voices. One of those is CalArts MFA grad Grace Krilanovich, who was later named one of the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 for her debut novel “The Orange Eats Creeps.”

But is the magazine’s association with CalArts imperiled? The Los Angeles Review of Books seems to think so. “Speculation is brewing over whether the West Coast literary magazine Black Clock will remain at the California Institute of the Arts, the journal’s original publisher, or move elsewhere,” wrote Matthew Specktor on the LARB blog Monday.

“While the magazine’s influence is greater than its circulation, it still seems crazy CalArts would let anyone else snap up such an enterprise,” Specktor continues, “especially given the prominence Black Clock brings to the institute’s MFA Writing Program.”


Crazy, perhaps, but unfortunately familiar. Literary journals have been threatened repeatedly by universities in recent years, a target of recession-era budget cutting.

In 2009, Northwestern pulled the print plug on Triquarterly, the literary journal founded there in 1958. Triquarterly has tried, as an online magazine, to explore the possibilities of the form with new projects such as “cinepoems” and video essays.

Also reeling from 2009 belt-tightening was Middlebury College, which said it would no longer support its literary journal, the New England Review. Louisiana State University’s Southern Review, founded by Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks, faced extinction at just about the same time.

Both the Southern Review and the New England Review survived, however, after voices were raised in support. Both found new ways to approach budgets and fundraising. Both still are associated with their respective universities, and both still appear in print.


What does the future hold for Black Clock? Specktor writes: “Maybe this is all just the usual palace intrigue, real or imaginary, that goes with any sort of high-level personnel changes such as those that CalArts reportedly has undergone this past year. Time will tell.”

Update 1/30 12pm: Matthew Specktor’s name was missepelled as “Spector” in an earlier version of this post.


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