Anyone – or anything – that makes it to age 75 deserves a celebration. And so the Kenyon Review is popping a cork of sorts to commemorate its 75th anniversary in 2014.
The cover of the winter issue, now available, features a detail of a full color painting by Ellen Priest (the entire painting is reproduced on the back cover). It’s a departure from the usual black and white cover with a single-color banner and celebrates the accomplishments and changes of the journal.
The Kenyon Review started in 1939, fulfilling the dream of poet Roberta Teale Swartz, wife of then Kenyon president Gordon Keith Chalmers, to start a literary magazine. Since then, it has launched the careers of many notable writers, including Flannery O’Connor, Robert Lowell and Peter Taylor, and published the work of many established authors such as Robert Penn Warren and Delmore Schwartz.
“There has been a big change in literary journals, in general,” Lynn said, remarking that the early content of the Kenyon Review focused more on criticism and poems than fiction. “And, of course, there are many, many more of them. There are something like 600 print literary journals in the country today as opposed to a handful back then.”
The Review faced financial hardship and ceased publication in 1970, but began printing again in 1979. When Lynn took over the editorship in 1994, one of his responsibilities was to make the publication more solvent, so he turned the journal into a not-for-profit and created its own board of trustees separate from the College’s.
“My mission is to have our work read by as many people around the world as I can,” said Lynn. “Then I find other ways of paying for it, through programs, through subscriptions, through gifts, and grants.”
His other edict from Kenyon’s board of trustees was to bring the Review “back to the Hill,” or in other words, to make it more integrated into College life. Lynn set up the associates program, training students to review submissions for the Review. Today, 50 students work as associates for the Kenyon Review.
But perhaps as impressive as the anniversary of the print journal is the five-year anniversary of KROnline, the Review’s online literary magazine.
“We began KROnline partly because we’d finally reached the point for the first time where I was turning down stuff I wanted to publish,” Lynn said. “We just didn’t have the space for it.”
In creating KROnline, Lynn was careful that it was not a just a repeat of what was in print, paying special attention to what the reader’s experience would be online. KROnline features completely different works by different authors, formatted for mobile devices, and offers sound clips of authors reading their poems and prose. And while the print Kenyon Review comes out quarterly, the material on KROnline is updated every two weeks.
“We are essentially producing two completely different literary journals, one in print and one online,” Lynn said. “No one else does that.”
The online journal received about 186,000 visitors last year, while the circulation of the print magazine is roughly 15,000. The two sets of readers, Lynn maintains, are different, with many more people internationally being able to access KROnline.
“I argue that KROnline is of the same quality as the print,” Lynn said. “Even though the aesthetic is slightly different. The pieces tend to be shorter, tend to be a little more playful or experimental or out there. I say they’re timely, rather than timeless.”
In an age when their online counterparts have obscured many print publications, the two Kenyon Review versions live symbiotically. But ensuring the success of the Kenyon Review as a whole means constantly re-evaluating all components from the design of the printed cover to the volume of work that’s published in both. Lynn says he envisions more overlap and blending of material in the future.
“I want there to be free online literature available worldwide. But finding the right balance is going to be a big challenge,” he said.
In the meantime, Lynn and his staff are basking in the accomplishments of the diamond anniversary of the journal.
“There’s still so much to celebrate after 75 years,” he said.
See a sampling of previous Kenyon Review covers .
Watch a video about the Kenyon Review Associates.