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Good Luck to The Oxford American

In the NYT Dwight Garner has a nice tribute to the Oxford American, in both its previous and its new incarnation.

I used to write for the Oxford American, years and years ago, and really enjoyed it. I found Marc Smirnoff an enjoyably low-key person to write for, though I had friends and acquaintances whose experience was not nearly so pleasant. Smirnoff was so gentle and soft-spoken with me that I found it hard to believe that he has a bad side, but I was assured, by people I trust, that he most certainly does.

I didn’t stop writing for them for any particular reason, except that I had a sense that the magazine — having so strenuously avoided so many familiar Southern poses — was developing its own. Larry Brown — Mister Southern Grit Lit himself, may he rest in peace — was perhaps too much the presiding spirit of the magazine. I wasn’t sure I had much to say that was low-down-and-dirty enough to fit in. And even low-doen-and-dirty finds, on the other side of cliché, an unbearable cuteness. That’s where Roy Blount Jr. goes sometimes, and Tony Earley pretty much all the time. I’ve had enough of what Tom Franklin — Garner quotes this — calls “the sensitive guy at the dogfight” stories.

But you know, the South remains its own place, with its own distinctive take on the Human Comedy, and on the various human tragedies as well, and I hope it will continue to punch above its weight, literarily speaking. I think is this is going to happen the Grit Lit thing will need to be overcome, or at least to become just one of the punches it might throw at any given time. The ordinary middle-class Southern existence hasn’t had a true recording angel since Walker Percy; I’d sure like to see another one. (Garden and Gun is fine as far as it goes, but Southerners have more, and more varied, stories to tell.)

I’d love to see the new Oxford American stretch the intellectual boundaries of Southern culture, and push into new territories of writing. I wish Roger Hodge well as the magazine’s new editor. And for heaven’s sake, man, keep those Music Issues coming.

about the author

Alan Jacobs is a Distinguished Professor of the Humanities in the Honors Program at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and the author most recently of The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography.

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