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: Chance :

an editorial by Robert S. Fogarty

 

“True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,

As those who have learn’d to dance.”

John Donne, An Essay on Criticism, 1711

 

What do all of the following university towns have in common: Melbourne, Australia; Lodz, Poland; Otago, New Zealand; Paris, France; Tubingen, Germany; Yalova, Turkey and Chicago, Illinois? Answer: all of their libraries subscribe to the Antioch Review. What does that have to do with our annual all-fiction issue? Answer: Not much except that our authors never really know just who their ultimate “audience” is these days in a market driven environment governed by “predictive technology.” Chance still plays a role.

Louis Pasteur in his inaugural lecture at Lille University in 1854 uttered a dictum that needs repeating: “In the field of observation chance favors only the prepared mind.” That “chance” factor was brought home to me recently as I watched a PBS program that featured a play “The Song of Lunch” starring Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson, both superb actors. It was the play itself and the gorgeous lines that came out of both their mouths that caught my attention. I thought I recognized the playwrights poetic voice; however, it seemed unlikely until the credits rolled by and there it was—the name Christopher Reid—a poet and editor I first encountered thirty or more years ago in London and who I had last seen (by accident) in Exeter as I was wandering aimlessly through that beautiful university town.

Such serendipity goes into the process whereby our “all-fiction” issue gets put together. First our readers (currently ten) sift through the “slush” pile (currently around 2500 per annum) and pass on to me stories that have merit or the possibility of appearing in the magazine.  As a courtesy to writers who have been in our pages before their work comes directly to me, though I like to think that acceptance is based only on the merit of a particular story and not a writer’s asserted pedigree that is the stock and trade of a cover letter: Who are they? Where have they published before? Whom have they studied under?  Finally I make a phone call to the author to make sure the story is still available and to discuss any changes that I believe will strengthen the work at hand.

Usually there are thirteen or fourteen stories in the summer number over against four or five in other issues. That makes for a grand total of twenty-five short stories in any given year. That’s twenty-five out of 2500 so the odds and the chances are stacked against the author. However, the magazine does get around the country and the world and one rarely knows who has read it unless it turns up in one of the “best” anthologies or in a collection subsequently published though usually a few years later.

Recently I took a look at our 2009 all-fiction number and was surprised to see how well it stood up to the test of time. The lead story was by a German writer whom I had never read before which arrived on our doorstep from a translator in Dayton, and the final story came from Lookout Mountain, Georgia (not Brooklyn) and for its author it was her first publication. Uwe Timm’s “The Coat” was a finalist for a National Magazine Award in Fiction and Jamie Quatro’s “Holy Ground” found its way into her first collection that has been widely praised by James Wood in the New Yorker and lionized in the New York Times Book Review’s special issue titled “Fresh Voices.” Nestled in between these two were Nathan Oates (lives in Brooklyn) who was just awarded the Spokane Award and whose first collection will be published this year and Olufunke Grace Bankole (lives in San Francisco) a young writer who gave up a career in the law to focus on her short fiction. Since 2009 she has won several awards.

We lead off this issue with a comic send-up of a summer time event—the writer’s conference—with all of its rituals by Peter LaSalle who has appeared in the Antioch Review since 1982 with now more than a dozen stories under his belt here. And we end—by chance—with the first story that Joyce Carol Oates published in the Review. In between there is a great deal of good work. We will revisit them in the future.



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