A Renaissance of Beautiful Little Things

Heather Hartley

You can find just about anything in Paris: Rodin’s sculpture “The Thinker,” more than 350 cheeses, overpriced berets made in China, a new Socialist President and more pertinent here, a vast selection of Anglophone literary magazines. The city has a long tradition of creating, producing and supporting English-language publications, in particular from the 1920s to today.

One of the most controversial and important magazines in the early part of the twentieth century was The Little Review (1914-1929), founded in Chicago by Margaret Anderson. Contributors included Djuna Barnes, Gertrude Stein, T. S. Eliot and Hart Crane, and the magazine is probably best known for publishing large portions of James Joyce’s Ulysses in installments until the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice declared the magazine obscene and banned the book in the United States in 1921. A year later, The Little Review packed for Paris, escaping the Vice Squad, ducking Prohibition and greatly increasing their chances of bickering over the best Burgundy in a bistro.

Other publications based or published in Paris in the 1920s include The Transatlantic Review (1924) edited by Ford Madox Ford, This Quarter (1925-1932) publishing Nabokov among others, and transition (1927-1938) with contributors from H.D. to Samuel Beckett to Dylan Thomas. There was also the Boulevardier, serving double duty as a literary outpost and inspiring an eponymous cocktail of bourbon, Campari and sweet vermouth with a cherry or twist of orange or lemon, your choice.  (And as with the Tin House Martini, a well-chilled glass is a must.) Where was Hemingway in all of this, you may ask? After frequently contributing to most of these magazines, he could be found frequenting the bars near their offices.

Back then, as now, magazines could be found at Shakespeare and Company bookshop (first at Sylvia Beach’s shop from 1919-1941 and now at Sylvia Whitman’s shop). Over the years, the bookshop itself has published The Paris Magazine, with the first issue in 1967 and contributors including Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Durrell. Other Paris-based magazines include Upstairs at Duroc, issue.ZERO, and Her Royal Majesty, founded in 2008 that recently launched its Exotic issue in six cities. Founder and Editor-in-Chief Harriet Alida Lye explains that, “The global launches we did this May in Toronto, Halifax, Montreal, New York, Berlin, London and Paris were an interesting experiment because I saw how the magazine is both strongly tied to Paris and has its roots everywhere.”

Her Royal Majesty’s Crown

And it’s not just Paris: you can find great magazines in a lot of European cities and in the case of A Tale of Three Cities , offices spread out over London, Berlin and Paris. Versal, an annual magazine out of Amsterdam, celebrates its tenth anniversary issue this month. Founder and Editor-in-Chief Megan M. Garr says, “Versal was part of our work to build a literary community from scratch. Amsterdam had a lot of writers from abroad but no connective force. Versal is an Amsterdam publication because it would not be Versal if had started anywhere else.”

Attention to detail and artistry is an important element for these magazines and can be seen in The White Review, a London-based multidisciplinary magazine where visual art is an integral part of the design. Launching its first issue in early 2011, Founders and Editors Ben Eastham and Jacques Testard explain, “The White Review was conceived as a platform to promote contemporary writing and art and to bring new work to a wider audience.”

The story of Tin House in Paris began in a crowded café on the Left Bank with Elissa Schappell and Rob Spillman in the fall of 2003. The latest issue had just hit the stands back in the States and a few coffees and copies later, I was equipped to go forth, show and share the magazine with bookstores and interested individuals and do something useful as Paris Editor, instead of just overextending my sweet tooth in pastry shops.

I went to Shakespeare and Company with “Give,” issue #17 in my hands, that seemed aptly themed as I giddily asked George Whitman if he would consider carrying Tin House in his bookshop. He took it from me, started reading right then and said yes. The next day, I went back to sneak a look around for it but didn’t have to go far: Tin House was on display in the front window. It has been on the shelves since, sharing space with an excellent, large selection including The Paris Review (founded in 1953 with offices in Paris until 1973 when they moved to George Plimpton’s apartment in Manhattan), n+1, The Believer, The New Yorker, Granta, The New York Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement and many more.

Margaret Anderson, explaining why she published Ulysses, writes that, “I defied nothing at all . . . It didn’t occur to me that anyone would want to curb my inspiration.” Or her appetite. This desire, and need, to publish good work in literary magazines continues today—in the States and abroad. And in case you’re hungry, there’s a full course meal with dessert and a digestif to be enjoyed on this side of the pond.

Heather Hartley is Paris editor at Tin House. She’s the author of Knock Knock, released by Carnegie Mellon University Press. Her poems have appeared in Post Road, Drunken Boat, Forklift Ohio, Mississippi Review and elsewhere. She’s a Co-Director of the Shakespeare and Company Bookshop literary festival and lives in Paris.