Sunday, October 18, 2015

Grand Street, 1981-2004

Are there still a bazillion brilliant little journals rising and sinking in the sea of mediocrity the way there were before the Internet distracted me from them and my blog became one of a bazillion blogs, a few of them brilliant?

For a short while before I sobered up in the mid-90's my favorite bar was on Grand Street in lower Manhattan, close by the one I went to first because it was in the tourist guide. But the bar in the guide was packed with angry yuppies -- angry because the rush of business caused by the mention in the tourist guide had destroyed the qualities which had gotten it into the tourist guide? angry because it was plain to see that I didn't belong among them? angry because they were yuppies and had no souls? -- and very quickly I found the other one right next door, much less crowded, much more friendly, much more diverse in the ages and ethnicities and sartorial styles of its clientele.

I never saw the offices of the literary and visual-arts journal Grand Street while I was down there. I don't know whether Grand Street's offices were ever actually on Grand Street. And apparently there's at least one more Grand Street in NYC, in Brooklyn.

Grand Street was founded in 1981, published stuff which was usually somewhere between good and astonishingly good, and it folded in 2004. Where did it come from? Why did it go? Why it and not USA Today?

Grand Street, Vol 3, No 4, Summer 1984, before it became a visual-arts journal in addition to a literary journal. Astonishingly good: excerpts from William H Gass' monster novel-in-progress The Tunnel and Elinor Langer's soon-to-be-published biography of Josephine Herbst, American Leftist, victim of untrue denunciations by the notoriously confused-or-much-worse Katherine Ann Porter. Proof that nobody, not even Grand Street, is perfect: a corny short story by Leonard Michaels and a piece by Gary Giddins which has aged spectacularly poorly: "Young Jazz Musicians." Out of all of the people in the world who were young and jazz musicians in the summer of 1984, which 2 did Giddins single out for our special attention? Bobby McFerrin and Wynton Marsalis. Thanks a lot, Gary, not!

In the astonishingly-good Grand Street 38, 1991, all in one issue, writing by, in addition to the journal's founder Ben Sonnenberg, Julio Cortazar, Kazuo Ishiguro, Kenzaburo Oe, Andre Gorz, Richard Powers and Michael McClure and others, and original pictures by Robert Rauschenberg on the cover and some more inside, and also pictures by others.

But that's just how Grand Street was. I'm not saying 38 was the best issue of them all, I'm not saying it was in the top 10, I have no idea whether it was, the point I'm trying to make is that there was so much brilliance published by Grand Street between 1981 and 2004 that I can't begin to comprehend or assess it all. 38, great as it is, may actually be below average for all I know. Grand Street was the astonishing shiznit. For the most part. Everybody's human. So was, for example, Partisan Review, 1934-2003. So were a lot of periodicals which rose and sank in the sea of written dreck. And now we're left with Stephen King and John Grisham and USA Today.

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