Big skies. Big mountains. Big bears. Whitefish Review is an ambitious magazine that operates out of Whitefish, Montana, a place of natural beauty and wonder, harsh winters, and glorious summers. The magazine’s mission is to give its readers a hearty dose of mountain culture and an appreciation of the natural world. Whitefish Review publishes emerging and established writers, as well as art, essays, interviews, and book excerpts, and the work featured in its pages is mostly concerned with nature and our place in it. Montana is a place of stark beauty, and Whitefish Review seeks to explore and emulate this type of beauty. It is both rustic and thoughtful.
Whitefish Review is not your traditional literary magazine. Lightly peppered with a few poems and stories, this magazine is more interested in the great outdoors and how art and artists fit into the natural world. Visual art, essays, and interviews find a home in this magazine. The interviews range from a particularly lengthy conversation with a professional skier, to a slightly shorter one with a political cartoonist, to an engrossing (and charming) one with one of my personal crushes, Alain de Botton. The most relevant interview to me, though, is an interview with Isaiah Sheffer, co-founder and artistic director of New York’s Symphony Space. Sheffer talks about starting Symphony Space back in 1978, how it was meant to be a place for theater and music projects, but through the years it’s become a place for all the arts to come together, from drama to poetry. He created “Selected Shorts: A Celebration of the Short Story,” in which actors read stories on stage. This concept of integrating art forms is right up Whitefish Review’s alley. The editors are not concerned solely with creative writing like most literary magazines, but with all kinds of art forms. When I read this particular interview, their creative vision finally made sense to me.
Perhaps the most daring vision of the magazine is its desire to bring to its readers a sense of where the artist or writer is coming from. Each drawing, painting, sketch, collage, and photograph is followed by a write-up from the artist explaining how and why they created their art and what it means to them and their place in the natural world. While I find this intriguing and just plain cool, I think the twenty pages of commentary could be better served filled with poems, stories, and creative nonfiction. Ideally, the whole journal would be stretched out, and we could benefit from reading these write-ups alongside more literary works. All in all, it’s a great idea that demands the reader engage with the artwork in the magazine, which is something I really appreciate.
While the fiction and poetry is sparse, it is worth mentioning. One story called “Great Rift Valley” (Tom Haines) is told by a man living in an East African village suffering from extreme drought. He has to choose whether to stay in the only home he’s ever known or leave for work in order to take care of himself and his family. He says, “It is one thing to leave a place that is no more. It is another to betray it if it asks only patience.” It is a story of place. It asks us What is a home? Can we make a new home someplace else? Whatever the man decides, and I’m not telling, it’s a difficult choice and speaks to all of us living in a world where we must make these kinds of choices every day.
Another piece of note is a poem titled “Mousetrap” by Bob Love. What can I say? I love the title, and I love the poet’s name – that’s what drew me in. The poem is only ten lines long. A deer mouse trail reminds the speaker to drain the water buckets from the sauna. It’s quiet and lovely, and hints at some greater human quality. It’s a bit mysterious, but illustrates the delicate line between the human and natural worlds.
Having only just completed its third year in the world of lit mags, Whitefish Review is a solid publication. Although the magazine is an odd mixture of literary works, art, essays, and interviews, it does bring together a clear sense of mountain culture and its importance in our time. Furthermore, it brings together many art forms, even those you might not think of as art at first glance and boldly says why not? Naturalists, adventurers, outdoor sports enthusiasts with a passion for art and reading – this is the place for you.