When Chicago Quarterly Review was launched in 1994 it aspired to live up to its name and hasn’t exactly succeeded—that is, it’s published 19 issues in those 21 years. But founder Syed Haider tells me he’s picked up the pace—the latest issue is the third in a year’s time. “Suddenly we are becoming what we should have been—some kind of quarterly,” says Haider.
I’d like to think the turnaround began with issue 17, an all-Chicago edition that saw fit to include three poems by yours truly. But Haider prefers to credit attrition: other literary magazines, such as the ones so many colleges used to publish, have largely disappeared.
“I think the reason we are around,” says Haider, “is that (a) we don’t pay anybody any money and (b) we don’t ask for any money. We don’t depend on grants, or on board members raising money.
We don’t even have ads. We don’t charge a reading fee because we accept submissions on the Internet.” One way they sell copies is through Amazon, which, says Haider, “has been very good to us.”
Grants buy a little time but you can’t count on them, he continues. “We don’t beg for money. We never raise money. We’re all volunteers.”
We spend two to three thousand dollars a year. It’s an affordable cost because we don’t pay anybody.” That includes the designer. “I’m taking advantage of a young person who’s my son, Sean,” says Haider. “And now he’s a father and I may want to set him free.”
Are other publishers taking notes?
Pay all Contribute to the expenses out of your own pocket—as Haider and his coeditor, Elizabeth McKenzie, do— and the agonies of capitalization fall away. “If it dies it dies,” Haider said. “Way too many people are seeking private money that people don’t have to give. I don’t want to have to go to the writers.”
That’s good to hear. I would never have published my poems in issue 17 if I’d had to pay for the privilege. Nothing struck me as a very fair price.
What’s surprising about Haider’s business plan is the quality of the literature it brings his way. Assembling the issues is largely McKenzie’s responsibility, and he’s not sure how she works her magic. Except—as he says—there aren’t many other places for writers to go.
“It’s amazing the kind of work we attract from all over the world,” says Haider. Some of it’s new; some of it’s recycled and translated. What impresses him most about issue 19 is the quantity and quality of translated poetry: Jacques Prevert from the French, Luis Cernuda from the Spanish, Osip Mandelstam from the Russian.
And then there’s “This Is All I Remember,” by the late David Frankel, a Romanian who survived Auschwitz. This 44-page essay (translated by Frankel’s daughter) appeared as the 50th anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation was being observed and gave the issue a topicality that Haider allows is a coincidence but is also the good fortune of a magazine doing something right.
But he has regrets. “The origin of the magazine once upon a time was to publish small, unknown voices,” he tells me. These days, “we hardly have one piece from somebody who’s new and unknown. The small writers are gone. They don’t send me anything, or what they send me we reject.”