For Love or Money
THE SOURCE: “Big Criticism” by Evan Kindley, in Critical Inquiry, Autumn 2011.
In 1946, poet and critic R.P. Blackmur sent a letter to many of America’s most prominent writers and critics. “For In reasons that will later become apparent,” it began, “we should be very grateful for your best opinion as to what literary magazines now being published in the United States are of the most use to literature.” The impetus behind the query was the Rockefeller Foundation, which had decided to support literary magazines and had asked Blackmur to determine which were the most deserving.
The letter’s mysterious introduction and “flat bureaucratic tone” elicited some extraordinarily candid assessments of the country’s literary present and future, writes Evan Kindley, a Princeton doctoral candidate and the managing editor of The Los Angeles Review of Books. Many respondents weighed in as well on the benefits and perils of offering financial support to publications whose marginal status and anti-commercial stance were part of their identity.
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