Mike's Reviews > The Southern Magazine of Good Writing Oxford American

The Southern Magazine of Good Writing Oxford American by Marc Smirnoff
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's review
Dec 24, 11

bookshelves: southern-literature, southern-class-and-culture, music
Recommended to Mike by: Square Books, Oxford, Mississippi
Recommended for: Anyone
Read on December 24, 2011 — I own a copy, read count: 1

The Oxford American was the brain child of current editor Marc Smirnoff. Originally from Mill Valley California, his car broke down during a cross country trek. Call it serendipity. Smirnoff was in Oxford, Mississippi, with no funds to repair his car. He took a job at Square Books, a very fine independent book store. Ever wished you fell into a situation like that?

Smirnoff met Willie Morris, Barry Hannah, Larry Brown, and John Grisham as they passed through the store, either at signing events or just passing through. At the time Hannah, Brown, and Grisham were all residents of Oxford.

Smirnoff decided that a literary magazine featuring southern literature and music was called for and he decided to start one. With the help of friends, family, and a lot of credit card debt, Issue 1 debuted March 14, 1992. It featured authors who contributed their work without pay. Smirnoff managed to publish three more issues before publication was shut down in 1994 for lack of funding.

John Grisham rescued the magazine in 1995. Publication continued through 2001 when it was decided it was just not a successful business venture. In 2002, Smirnoff moved the Oxford American to Little Rock, Arkansas where it was published by the At Home group of magazines. It was a short run, dropped by the publishing group in 2003.

The Oxford American was revived by funding received by the University of Central Arkansas and began to run as a quarterly in 2004. Smirnoff is still at the helm as editor.

Through all the starts and stops, Oxford American has reached its 75th issue. But the most popular issues have been the annual Southern Music Issues which come with a complimentary music CD. This issue marks the thirteenth music issue and the thirteenth complimentary CD. Each issue is a winner and this one's no exception. Howling Wolf is on the cover and he's howling on the CD. With 27 tracks, the disc alone is worth the price of the magazine and pure listening pleasure. Combine that with 190 pages of articles featuring the artists, history,southern literature, what more could you want?

If you don't have the first twelve discs, I hope you love the thrill of the chase. They're a hot commodity.

Featured musicians include Ernie Chaffin, Bo Diddley, Leon Bass, Dusty Brooks, and Guitar Slim. Mattie Delaney's 1930 recording of "Tallahatchie River Blues" will put a lump in your throat. Brooks' "My Baby Loves Chili Dogs" will have you laughing and tapping your feet.

From the magazine's website:

"The Oxford American is a national magazine dedicated to featuring the very best in Southern writing while documenting the complexity and vitality of the American South.

Billed as "The Southern Magazine of Good Writing," it has won three National Magazine Awards and other high honors since it began publication in 1992. The magazine has featured the original work of such literary powerhouses as Charles Portis, Roy Blount, Jr., ZZ Packer, Donald Harington, Donna Tartt, Ernest J. Gaines, and many other distinguished authors, while also discovering and launching the most promising writers in the region. The magazine has also published previously unseen work by such Southern masters as William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Walker Percy, James Agee, Zora Neale Hurston, James Dickey, Carson McCullers, to name just a handful. The New York Times recently stated that The Oxford American 'may be the liveliest literary magazine in America.'"

I agree with the NYTimes. Preservation of the blues is a pretty lively cause, too. As blues scholar William Ferris says in this issue, "When an old man dies, a library burns down."

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