One appreciates a literary magazine with a central theme, and this is precisely what MAKE: A Chicago Literary Magazine delivers. It trains it sights on the underdogs of society, with stories and poem focused on character and a sense of place, depicting individuals who have been brushed aside or overlooked by society.
This is MAKE's 8th issue, and the theme this time is “This Everyday.” According the editors, the theme suggests “a celebration of the normal, an exaltation of the banal . . . In this issue, you will find work that observes and deconstructs the quotidian, discovers worth in modesty, and unveils the sublime in the most unlikely of places. The authors and visual artists herein look at what we often overlook and try to name it, rename it, and otherwise make sense of our relationships with each other and with our selves.”
This deceptively slim volume is densely packed, and although the print is somewhat small (with two-column pages), the stories and poems are infectiously readable. But what sets MAKE apart from many other magazines is that, in addition to first-rate fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and visual art, there are a few extra touches: book reviews, interviews and collaborations.
Okay, maybe book reviews aren't all that uncommon, but it's nice to read well-written and insightful reviews on widely distributed titles from Simon and Schuster alongside reviews of the more modestly distributed, university press titles.
“This Everyday” features two interviews, and both of them are conversations between two big names and mediated and transcribed by a third person. “I Don't Understand the God Part: A Conversation Between Dorothea Lasky and Lauren Berlant” hits on heady subjects you'd expect to overhear at a sociology conference: case studies, their inherent jump from the individual to the general, and how the ideas therein can be applied to art. The second interview is slightly less academic, but for aspiring writers, may be a shade more grim. In “Two Separate Conversations: An Interview with Dave Daley and Stephen Elliot,” the subjects discuss the present and uncertain future of the rapidly changing publishing industry.
This issue also involves a collaboration between Marvin Bell and Marvin Tate. Four years ago, Chicago poet and musician Marvin Tate interviewed Marvin Bell, Iowa's first Poet Laureate, for the inaugural issue of MAKE. For this issue, “The Marvin and Marvin Show” reunited for a collaboration via e-mail merging song, poetry, and the theme “This Everyday.” The reader encounters this collaboration in sequence, on one page is the song, written out in musical notation on a treble clef staff, and on the adjacent page is other-Marvin's response poem, then another song, then another poem. The ingenious part of this collaboration is that the poems and songs were subsequently recorded, and the album is available at the magazine’s website.
The fiction element of MAKE's “This Everyday” issue seems to focus on characters on the periphery, but each story deals with this theme in its own way. In Laura Gabel-Hartman's “The Cookout,” a woman who struggles to put a little fire back into her relationship is faced with the horror of finding her kindergarten-age daughter with her hand down a young boy's pants during a cookout. “Koba's Bad Cut,” by Jim Snowden, is a Kafka-esque story about a Russian officer's chance encounter with Joseph Stalin, and the agony of debating with himself over how to best answer a single question posed by the iconic leader: “Do you like my new haircut?”
The nonfiction pieces are similarly focused on the outsider. With his essay, “Them,” Bryan Furuness takes us through a frenzied snippet of his life as an insurance salesman and illustrates the pitfalls of being a moderate liberal in a sea of hyper-conservatives. “Receptionist,” by Christen Enos, is a fun look at what it's like to be a fly on the wall at PR firm that represents famous Hollywood celebrities, but the social divisions observed by the author are stark, and very much black and white.
The photography in this issue is striking. The art is printed in full color on non-glossy paper, which adds a certain warmth to the images. Keeping the paper consistent also helps to ease the reader's transition from text-material to image. Just another nice touch in the aesthetic of the magazine.
All in all, even though this is only MAKE’s 8th issue, the layout is as slick and professional as any journal that has been around for decades. My recommendation: this magazine is well worth the $10 cover price.