God bless you, every one of you. "If anyone is familiar with this alleged Virginia Review and wants to provide a few grafs of description, we'd be much indebted," we begged of you earlier. "And we imagine not a few of our readers would be, too." And then, like the angels you are, you all jumped to attention and gave us our answer. Now we'll be able to enjoy the full Ellies experience. (One hopes the Times will launch a David Carr blog to cover the runup.) Herewith, an explanation of what the fuck The Virginia Quarterly Review is, fresh from the Gawker emailbag:
I've read the VIRGINIA QUARTERLY REVIEW—every issue, cover to cover. Of course, I'm the editor... Thanks for the mention — and for your questions. A few answers:
* What the fuck is The Virginia Quarterly Review?
It's a question everyone is asking. Already WOMEN'S WEAR DAILY has dubbed VQR "this year's dark horse," the NEW YORK POST called our six nominations as "the biggest surprise of the day," and the NEW YORK TIMES marveled that the little magazine was "right behind THE ATLANTIC." So how did a magazine, published at the University of Virginia, with a tiny budget and circulation, garner as many nominations as the perennial heavyweights? I think the only answer is "hustle." We want to compete with the best magazines. To do that as a little quarterly, we have to read voraciously, pursue the best writers — both established and unknown — and be pitching stories ideas constantly.
After the jump, the editor answers our other questions. Plus slightly less boosterish explanations from slightly more disinterested parties.
* How did it end up with six finalists?
The hustle is paying off. In the last year we've published Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Cormac McCarthy, Isabel Allende, Tony Kushner, and a regular series by Art Spiegelman. Our Spring issue, due to land next week, includes a feature on evolution and Intelligent Design with contributions from David Quammen, Niles Eldredge, Robert M. Sapolsky, and others. But we're proudest of the fact that our two nominations in Essays were by writers, Pauline W. Chen and Martin Preib, who had never been previously published in a national magazine. One of the missions of little magazines like ours has always been to discover and nurture new talent. We're doing exactly that. And we've got good taste.
* Have any of you ever read it?
If you haven't, you should. BOOKSLUT today called us "the best fucking magazine on the planet right now." That seems like a pretty good endorsement — if six National Magazine Award nominations isn't enough. And now you can read and decide for yourself. All of our nominated material is available online on our website: [LINK].
Thanks again for the mention. I hope you'll check us out!
Virginia Quarterly Review
Ah yes, the Virginia Quarterly Review. I spent 3 years at the University of Virginia in the late 1970s in the English graduate program. The VQR was then highly literary, and edited by an odd man named Staige Blackford, who was most famous for never walking anywhere — only running. Usually in a suit, which in a central Virginia summer, must have been mighty hot.
When my dad got me a subscription for Christmas last year, I too said, "Huh?" But I have been thanking him ever since, because it's a great publication. Founded decades ago, the journal wallowed in respectable obscurity until a few years back, when some displaced Minnesotans (my own home state) jump-started it by adding photography, journalism, cultural history, comics, music writing, and all manner of other quality creative work that doesn't fit neatly in any category. There's something new and unexpected in every issue.
I'm tempted to describe it as McSweeney's but serious, but there's a lot more to the VQR than that. The magazine seems to appeal to the same demographic, but it is both less eccentric and more adventurous than that Garamond-bestrewn grab-bag of literary odds and ends. VQR's recent series on AIDS in Africa was devastating, powerful, informative, and most importantly, engaging. Following it up with some pages from Art Spiegelman and a story from Deborah Eisenberg somehow made perfect sense.
In any case, I'm as surprised as you that it's received such accolades in the National Magazine Awards, though I certainly can't say they don't deserve it. I'll look forward to the next issue, when they will inevitably have lost their edge due to the non-stop media frenzy and associated drug parties due to hit Charlottesville any day now.