Signs of Life in the Culture
In Stone Canoe Number 5, we once again offer our readers a provocative mix of writing and visual arts that captures something of the vitality of the Upstate New York cultural scene. Put another way, our mission is to track signs of life in the culture, which can be found, we discovered, in an academic setting (yes, occasionally!), an arts institution, a community organization, a hospital, a farm, an urban high school, a maximum security prison, or literally on the street, as in the case of a visiting homeless artist featured in this issue. To the extent that we have succeeded, it is thanks to the efforts of our stellar group of visiting editors, whose collective wisdom is what ultimately gives SC 5 its complex and distinctive flavor. Also deserving of great praise is our small but intrepid in-house editorial, design and production staff, who are responsible for the distinctive look and quality of the publication, and our student interns, whose facility with web design and social media have helped us to keep up with the most current digital trends.
You may notice our updated subtitle, which reaffirms our commitment to literature and at the same time signals the expansion of our mission to include more writing of another sort—essays on social, cultural or technological issues that inform the way we live now. Our two newly-funded prizes in Creative Nonfiction and Engineering and Technology Writing will likely encourage more submissions of this kind.
Our change of subtitle also suggests something else: our gradual evolution from a “regional” publication to one of national stature. With each successive issue of the Journal, we have come to see our mission as having a broader geographic focus, thanks to an increasingly diverse collection of work submitted by important artists and writers who have at one time or another been part of our extended community—either through birth and upbringing, education, or professional connection—and therefore deserve to be included in the ongoing “conversation” about the region’s distinctive cultural identity.
Consider the impact of pieces by Lucille Clifton or Ishmael Reed, for example, both natives of Buffalo, whose illustrious careers have taken them well beyond the sidewalks of their youth, set alongside the work of a younger writer describing contemporary life in that bruise of a city. Or the impact of a poem from a Midwest university professor, recalling his incarceration in an Upstate prison, juxtaposed with another poem from someone currently incarcerated in the region. A thoughtful exploration of our pages will reveal many such surprises, each designed to enrich the ongoing dialogue between writer and reader.
Stone Canoe is also becoming more comprehensive in terms of its coverage of the arts. This issue introduces a new section on film and video, The Moving Image, and future issues will also include more writing on music in its various forms.
This expansion of our mission will be facilitated by our migration to a hybrid format, following the lead of the more imaginative arts publications worldwide. Thus, we are introducing a virtual extension of Stone Canoe 5, called SC Online, which will have prominent and permanent status on our web site, in conjunction with the launch of each print version. This will enable us to present more content than can possibly be accommodated in our already large and expensive print book, and to take advantage of the growing multimedia-based opportunities to connect with our audience. The current SC Online feature at stonecanoejournal.org offers a fine selection of art and writing that will hopefully induce visitors to invest in the larger companion journal, either in print or e-book form. To emphasize the unity of the print and online sections of issue number 5, we list the contributors all together in the print version.
Ultimately, in any discussion of the future of arts and literature publications, the subject of print versus pixel comes up. So far, to my knowledge, no one has yet offered a clear vision of what lies ahead for the creation and distribution of journals like Stone Canoe. We continue to believe in the value, for some readers at least, of a well-designed print piece with a long shelf life. But some visionaries are convinced that we will all have e-readers in five years, and no books—or CDs for that matter—on our shelves. So, for now, we hedge our bets by offering our entire series in alternative e-book form, at a lower price.
Some see the inevitable migration away from the printed page as disastrous for the future of literature. But according to a November 10, 2010, article in the U.K.’s Guardian called “A Renaissance Rooted in Technology: the Literary Magazine Returns,” the internet is making literature popular again by introducing its possibilities to a younger and broader readership armed with mobile devices, with the result that “the conversation about reading and writing is open to more people than ever before.”Now that technology has enabled literary magazines to solve the problems of print, distribution, and marketing costs, so the argument goes, they can now concentrate on offering consumers something worthwhile in cheap and convenient form. After all, “one can read a short story or poem in the time it takes to get to work, or while waiting for a friend in a bar, or in any of those spare moments you have during the day when you would normally consume the sugary fluff of the internet.” It is as simple as reading a blog, and costs as little as an iTune. Lest you doubt this scenario, the internet-distributed British literary magazine Five Dials has gone from 1,000 to 10,000 subscribers in two years.
Whatever the strategy, the important thing, as always, will be to get the work of deserving writers and artists into the hands of as broad an audience as possible. Imagine all the patrons in Upstate sports bars reading our stories and poems during halftime…and looking at our artwork, now that all the e-readers will be adding color. Ah, technology.
On a final and more serious note, we who produce such publications, in whatever format the future dictates, will forever harbor the hope that our readership will indeed grow, as more people in the community come to discover literature, and all the arts, as important to their everyday survival, in the way that esteemed poet Gregory Orr sees it: “as a way of surviving emotional chaos, spiritual confusions, and traumatic events that come with being alive.” (February 26, 2006, NPR).
Orr also says something else that captures in a wonderful way the importance of a project like Stone Canoe. As a poet, he says, he is transformed by the making of his poems. Then, “because poems can be shared between poet and audience, they also become a further triumph over human isolation.”
Editor, Stone Canoe
Syracuse, New York