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West Coast Literary Journal Zyzzyva Gets a Digital Makeover

Photo by Drew Kelly

Last year, when editor Howard Junker wrote in Zyzzyva, his popular arts and literary magazine, that he was looking for a successor, an entry-level editorial assistant at another small pub in SF emailed him asking for the job. At 29, Laura Cogan wasn’t much older than the quarterly Junker founded in 1985 and operated out of the ground floor of his home near Golden Gate Park. But Cogan had been reading the journal since she was 8, after her parents moved the family to Sausalito and placed a subscription on the coffee table.

Growing up, Cogan devoured the poetry, short stories, and essays by the writers Junker helped discover, such as Haruki Murakami (Kafka on the Shore), whose first English-language story was published in Zyzzyva in 1988. “It was incredibly nerve-racking when I sent that email. It was a leap of faith,” says Cogan. “Sometimes you have to make an opportunity for yourself, reach out to people, and see what happens.” After a meeting over coffee, Cogan volunteered in Junker’s mail room and was promoted to managing editor shortly thereafter. Then on January 1, she took over completely when Junker retired.

As the new editor in chief of Zyzzyva (named after the last word in many dictionaries—it’s a type of red beetle), the Marina resident moved headquarters to an office downtown and put out her first spring issue. On May 4, at Booksmith in the Haight, she’ll continue the magazine’s regular readings by contributors from the current issue.

Cogan also gave Zyzzyva a tech-driven makeover in March by taking the archives online and adding a new blog, book reviews, and author interviews. But that doesn’t mean she’s down on print. “We really don’t know what the implications of the Internet are for literary journals, but when I look around, I see talented, young editors taking jobs at long-standing lit magazines like The Paris Review,” says Cogan. “It speaks to how vital and alluring print still is.”

For a few years, Cogan lived in the publishing capital of NYC, but she was more attracted to what was happening with print in SF, so she moved back. “San Francisco has developed such a lively literary culture on its own,” she says, noting Michael Chabon as one of her favorite Bay Area writers. “You have independent publishers and lit mags with a different spirit. They’re smaller in scale and more boutique-like. Maybe it’s the eccentricity and dogged individuality of San Francisco. Some people think it’s kooky, but I think it’s terrific.” 

Zyzzyva’s Laura Cogan and readings from the spring issue at Booksmith on May 4