Brianna Rose Zimmerman
Months after its 200th anniversary last summer, the Yale Review will celebrate its history this Wednesday to Friday with a literary festival featuring talks, discussions and a master class.
The magazine began in 1819 as “The Christian Spectator.” It became “The New Englander” in 1843 and then the economics-focused “Yale Review” in 1892. In 1911, English professor Wilbur Cross, class of 1885, transformed the Review into a modern literary magazine. The magazine has published pieces by writers including Thomas Mann and Virginia Woolf. Past editors include sociologist Kai Erikson and former Head of Jonathan Edwards College Penelope Laurans.
The Yale Review celebrated its 200th anniversary in July 2019 when critic, memoirist and poet Meghan O’Rourke ’97 assumed her position as editor.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to celebrate that long meandering history of reinvention at a time when we’re reinventing the Review,” O’Rourke said.
The festival will feature writers from the Review’s first issue under O’Rourke’s editorship. According to O’Rourke, the festival aims to honor the history of the journal and demarcate its new identity.
In the opening event on Feb. 5, Parul Sehgal from the New York Times and Dan Chiasson from The New Yorker will discuss the role of the critic in the digital age. According to O’Rourke, it is important to rethink the responsibilities of the modern critic in an age when literature is becoming increasingly democratic. The panelists will also reflect on recent student criticism and discuss what can make student writers stand out.
“What became very clear to me, as a writer myself, is that one thing that pretty much every writer is grappling with is what it means to be doing things in this context of turmoil, of ecological and political change and uncertainties,” O’Rourke said. “And so I wanted to make it a festival that celebrates the past by digging into what it means to be at work now. For me, that involves grappling with the question of what it means to be a writer when the stakes feel so very high.”
On Feb. 6, Dan Chiasson, Parul Sehgal, Sheila Heti, Cathy Park Hong and Robyn Schiff will take part in a panel discussion titled “Writing in an Age of Turmoil.”
The festival will also explore the current renaissance in American poetry. It features a reading and discussion titled “Writers at Work: American Poetry as a Social and Formal Force” with Robyn Schiff and Cathy Park Hong.
English professor Langdon Hammer ’80 GRD ’89 said the Review is a “door between the academy and literary culture at large.”
According to Hammer, in a time when there is “a sense of ongoing crisis,” it is increasingly important for a literary quarterly to act as an organ for deeper thinking, patience and diversity of opinion. The Review mixes numerous genres to address current issues in a varied and holistic way.
O’Rourke said she hopes that readers will experience a “meaningful sense of contact” with the writers featured in the festival and be “startled into some kind of insight.”
The latest issue bridges the Review’s past with its present. The issue includes an essay by Hammer honoring the late J. D. McClatchy GRD ’74, who served as editor of the Review from 1991–2017 and taught at Yale when O’Rourke was an undergraduate.
According to O’Rourke, reinventing The Yale Review necessitated reimagining the magazine’s identity in an era of digital publishing. As editor, O’Rourke is working to enhance the Review’s digital presence with a new website launching in May and a podcast to come in the fall.
Harold Augenbraum, who served as acting editor of the Yale Review from 2017–19, said he focused on facilitating the transition from a 20th-century magazine to 21st-century literary organization. This included diversifying the range of offerings by incorporating works in translation and creating a more dynamic digital environment.
“Every few decades there is a reinvention of The Yale Review in order to keep it current and interesting to the culture of the time,” Augenbraum said. He added that this periodic evolution is one of the publication’s “beauties.”
O’Rourke said she is also working to make the Review more accessible to Yale students. She hopes to continue inviting writers to campus for readings and discussions and bring the Review’s outward-facing energy back inward to students. O’Rourke is also implementing a new student fellowship program that allows students to be involved in every aspect of producing a professional literary publication.
“I want students to know that we are here for them,” O’Rourke said.
Sean Lynch ’20, a student editorial assistant for the magazine, said student workers are involved in the content and the image of the magazine. Working for the magazine introduced him to different facets of literary publication.
“I want [The Review] to feel like a record of some of the best writing and most interesting thinking of its time,” O’Rourke said. “A journal is very much embedded in its moment. We want to be engaged in the questions of the moment, identifying and capturing the voices that really have something to say right now.”
Carrie Zhou | firstname.lastname@example.org