The Once and Future Paris Review

Literary Plush
For a peek under the beret of The Paris Review, listen to this podcast recorded in October 2010 at "Live From City Lights [bookstore]" during San Francisco's annual Litquake festival. (Online City Lights podcast link here; downloadable iTunes link here.)

Le Funny et Les Grotesqueries
In the 48-minute (English) conversation, a dapper two-hander, writer/critic Oscar Villalon gets new(ish) Paris Review editor Lorin Stein to divulge some morceaux about what kind of writing the grande dame of lit mags is looking for within the category of "the best possible new writing." Stein cites "entertainingness," and his taste for realist fiction that contains humor and sex--even a little grotesquerie is fine. "I need to be having fun, all the time, when I read," he says. Reportage is no longer on le menu--Stein sensibly points out the timeliness issues for a quarterly attempting to cover current affairs--but art is making a comeback. The perennial "interviews" with literary luminaries will persist, though I will now read them with a far more worldly eye (see below*).

Le Futur
Stein relates that the board of The Paris Review told him to make it bold, and part of that boldness appears to be a deluxe and energetic online presence, where he hopes to convert browsers to subscribers. Online is also the chosen venue for topical non-fiction, published in a "belletristic" format, under the banner of "the Paris Review Daily,"(with its cute and casual lower-case online "the").  In addition to consuming wide-roaming arts and sports coverage for free, you can also email the editor for advice, as did this would-be submitter of tender years.

*An Interview Is Not An Interview
Maybe I'm the gulliblest long-time reader of The Paris Review ever, but I was shocked to learn from this podcast that those Plimpton-coined Art of X "interviews" are not interviews, but collaborations! The subjects are allowed to edit their responses, and some interviews go back and forth for years before they're published (though the fact that Norman Rush's interview generated 500 pages of transcript is less surprising). Stein explains that The Paris Review relinquished the "gotcha" in order to coax the interviewee into more openness. Once I got over my shock it made perfect sense--it's not like great writing depends on a top-secret soft drink formula that could be accidentally extracted during an interview.

A Portrait of the Young Editor
Finally, for those who think knowing an editor's personal proclivities is useful, Villalon elicits charming biographical details about young Stein's early passions (viz M. Eeyore, above), the effect of Merle Haggard on his literary sensibilities, and his interesting career path. I do not, however, recommend submitting your oeuvre on Winnie-the-Pooh notepaper.