2015 Archives

The Southwest Review Turns 100

Excerpt

The following is from the July 2015 edition of D Magazine.

June 29, 2015

By Ben Fountain

“A hundred years is a long life,” says Willard Spiegelman one warm spring Saturday in the office of the Southwest Review, the magazine he’s edited for the past 30 years. We’re on the fourth floor of Fondren Library at SMU, with a view out the window of rooftops aligned on the campus quad, oak trees in new leaf, and, far in the distance, the jumbled silver skyline of downtown Dallas.

Spiegelman, the Hughes Professor of English at SMU, is in a reflective mood, necessarily so, since his visitor keeps bugging him with questions about the 100th anniversary of the Review’s founding. It’s a fluke, a cosmic hiccup, a kink of cultural fate that the third-oldest continuously published literary review in the country is located in the heart of Dallas, where commerce is king, money screams, and living loud and large is the air we breathe. Try to imagine one of the Ewings sitting back on a quiet Southfork evening to peruse the latest issue of the Review. (Query: did we ever see a Ewing holding an actual book?) Easier to picture a blowup of Einstein’s head superimposed on the orb of Reunion Tower. Who gives a proud Texas damn about literature?

“We’re probably better known on the coasts than we are in Dallas,” Spiegelman says of the magazine. The operation is as lean as ever, producing an issue every quarter with just two full-time employees—Jennifer Cranfill, who doubles as senior editor and fiction editor, and Terri Lewers, the longtime office manager and jack of all trades—along with Spiegelman, who edits the Review in addition to teaching and writing his own books.

The editorial philosophy he’s applied these past 30 years has a Zen simplicity: “The Southwest Review publishes things I like to read.” Prodded, he elaborates with something of Yoda’s serenity and sense of purpose. “Good writing is writing that makes you interested in something you otherwise wouldn’t be interested in. Therefore I publish the things that amuse, interest, provoke, and move me at the moment I’m reading.”

History, of course, determines what’s good enough to last. Spiegelman acknowledges that much of the writing in the Review’s early issues reads as brittle as the paper on which it’s printed. Then again, one would expect tastes to have changed in the decades since Woodrow Wilson’s first administration. When the magazine was launched in 1915 as The Texas Review at the University of Texas, founding editor Stark Young wrote that he’d been advised “to let your magazine reek of the soil,” surely (he doesn’t say this) by some sissy who’d never had his nose anywhere near said soil. “The one unusual thing in Texas,” Young continued, “seems to be the opinion at home and abroad that there is something quite unusual about us.”

In 1924, the Review moved to SMU and took its present name. The roll call of heavyweights who’ve appeared in its pages stands up to any American magazine, large or small, of the past 100 years: D.H. Lawrence, Robert Graves, Harriet Monroe, André Maurois, Julian Huxley, Robert Penn Warren, Anne Carson, James Merrill, Annie Dillard, Joyce Carol Oates, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Pinsky. Two of the greatest playwrights of the 20th century, Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams, appeared in its pages. Nobel laureates, four: Saul Bellow, Naguib Mahfouz, Nadine Gordimer, and Orhan Pamuk. The Texas Trinity of J. Frank Dobie, Walter Prescott Webb, and Roy Bedichek was a strong midcentury presence, as was John Graves, author of the classics Goodbye to a River and From a Limestone Ledge. Jerry Bywaters and several other of the Dallas Seven artists were frequent contributors.

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