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Ninth Letter – Spring/Summer 2005

There are literary magazines that you read and enjoy, but end up piled in your closet amongst back issues of other magazines. Then there are literary magazines that are so lovingly put together and carefully designed that they demand prominent placement on your bookshelf or coffee table. Ninth Letter is one of the latter. This University of Illinois based publication seeks to reinvent the literary magazine by infusing it with design and art. There are literary magazines that you read and enjoy, but end up piled in your closet amongst back issues of other magazines. Then there are literary magazines that are so lovingly put together and carefully designed that they demand prominent placement on your bookshelf or coffee table. Ninth Letter is one of the latter. This University of Illinois based publication seeks to reinvent the literary magazine by infusing it with design and art. In fact, the masthead lists more designers than editors and assistant editors combined. At its worst, the design work is merely pretty background material, but at its best the art and design deepens the effects of the work. Phil LaMarche’s “In the Tradition Of My Family,” is a perfect example of this and an excellent story in its own right: “In the tradition of my family I was shot at the age of thirteen. My father, lacking a zeal for the familial custom, chose to send a small caliber round through the flesh connecting two of my toes.” Thus the narrator is left with a scar hardly befitting the prominent chest, cheek and shoulder scars of his relatives. Although Ninth Letter’s attention to presentation is what makes it stand out, there is no skimping on the written side. Robert Olen Butler contributes four more pieces of his intriguing “Severance” series, parts of which were previously published in journals such as McSweeney’s and Glimmertrain. Howard Norman translates three excellent poems by the Inuit poet Lucille Amorak and Steve Almond gives a humorous account of his aborted VH1 appearance. I could go on, but it is a large and thick journal and there is simply too much worth commenting on.
[www.ninthletter.com]

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