30 Years of Frederick Barthelme & Mississippi Review
I worked at Mississippi Review for a year and a half in graduate school. Fiction writer Frederick Barthelme—Rick—was the editor of MR, and he was also my graduate school director down there in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. I am fairly certain the only reason Rick finally let me work on the magazine was because I pestered him about it day in and day out. Every time he walked through the office where I worked, I would ask if he needed help with MR. He would always say no, thanks, then look at me kind of oddly. Then one day he didn’t say no. I stayed with MR for a year or so until I left Hattiesburg. Rick gave me more opportunity and responsibility than I deserved. I could never thank him enough.
Rick has since left MR. Still the magazine soldiers on, earlier this year releasing the hefty volume 39, numbers 1-3, an issue reprinting highlights from Rick’s three decades as editor. The issue is about two inches thick, coming in at 870 pages. It’s a beauty. More, it seems emblematic of the laborious, necessary, and rewarding work done at magazines like MR. It’s like a trophy of some kind, though I can’t think of for what exactly. Literature? Publishing? Art? Those all seems too formal. Too like something Rick would jeer at, someone who seemed always wary of labels and awards.
There’s stuff in the issue from well-known authors and less well-known ones, but, flipping through and recognizing much, all the language is hard won, at the same time humbly remaking the lived world on the page—”I’m a dishwasher in a restaurant. I’m not trying to impress anybody.” And much of the work has since gained renown beyond MR’s pages, such as Larry Brown’s “Facing the Music” and Amy Hempel’s “The Dog of the Marriage.” There’s writing from Jason Brown and Elizabeth Tallent, Ben Marcus and Joyce Carol Oates, Hannah Pittard and Tao Lin, Yasunari Kawabata and James Tate. It’s really a masterpiece, this collection, and I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything like from a the literary magazine—certainly nothing so representatively massive since those early issues of New Directions or Charles Newman’s TriQuarterly, good company to be in.