Yesterday I received two copies of the first issue of OCCUPY!, an Occupy Wall Street inspired newspaper from the editors of n+1. More than many, perhaps, I tend to see literature in periodical form—by which I mean magazines, journals, newspapers, zines, etc—as an essential part of literary history and culture, in a tradition stretching back to the 17th century Nouvelles de la république des lettres or perhaps even the tipao of the Han Dynasty. This can often feel like a lonely position to hold, especially among my young creative writing students who, more often than not, see literary magazines as a large step down in interest and importance from the latest Stephen King novel. Perhaps rightly so?
OCCUPY! seems like one of the most important texts to come out of U.S. literary magazine publishing in recent history, and probably from the publishing world in general. This newspaper—an “OWS-inspired gazette”—is a fingerprint of the occupy occupations, protests, and thinking since September 2011, as well as a look at the influences, origins, and goals of the movement. Obviously many magazines publish necessary, often essential writing, magazines as different as Guernica, Paris Review, and Annalemma. What makes OCCUPY! so different, why it has reinvigorated my faith in the power of publishing, is that the newspaper is of-the-moment, for-the-moment in the best sense. As opposed to the randomness of YouTube videos and most online commentary on OWS, n+1′s newspaper is filled with finely edited, chosen, and arranged texts, letters, commentary, diary entries, manifestos, and responses that vividly and powerfully communicate the diverse nature of the people and thoughts and struggles behind this movement. It is publishing at its best: both relevant and well-produced. OCCUPY! serves as—to rewrite Arthur Miller’s famous dictum about playwrights—a litmus paper of a moment. It is, as Frederick Barthelme once told me was the main concern of the novelist, “these people, this place, this time.” It’s writing and publishing that seems essential when you hold it in your hands, how I feel when I hold Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems, Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, the first issue of New York Quarterly. And isn’t that what we always want?
NOTES: OCCUPY! issue 2 has recently been released, though I haven’t read it yet. A copy can be downloaded for free here. And Verso Books has “turned [the] gazette into a book, with a fair amount of added material,” titled Occupy! Scenes from Occupied America. The Verso launch party for the book is December 16.