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Telling Tales: Narrative Magazine

 

Timing in life, they say, is everything.

On the same day that the Pew Research Center released its findings from a recent News Interest Index Poll which asked Americans about their newspaper reading habits and product loyalty (and don’t ask, the numbers are dismal), the written word was celebrated in the home of Diane and Charles Frankel.

And, huzzah!

The Frankels hosted a patrons’ reception for Narrative Magazine, the free, online literary brainchild of co-founders and editors Carol Edgarian and her husband, Tom Jenks, prior to a literary hoe-down that followed at Fort Mason Center.

Back in the relative Dark Ages of 2003, Jenks (a former fiction editor at Esquire, among many publishing positions) and Edgarian (author of Rise the Euphrates, among other works), had the great idea to go digital.

“These days, writers would be marginalized if they didn’t reach the Internet,” said Jenks. “With Narrative, we can demonstrate connectivity while exploring the best of literary traditions.”

This non-profit enterprise and literary resource center, which also produces a 3x-yearly, subscription, hard-copy magazine for the traditionalists (though some might say, troglodytes) among us, celebrates the art of storytelling amid a rainbow of styles that embraces shorts stories, poems, novels, photography, cartoons and graphics.

Authors range from best-sellers such as Joyce Carol Oates, Jane Smiley and Tobias Wolff to a new generation of scribes such as Hasanthika Sirisena, a 2008 recipient of the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Awards for emerging women authors.

“After publishing on Narrative, many of our new authors have gone on to get book agents and publishing contracts,” said Edgarian.

Not surprising, then, that this site, which proclaims itself as, The Future of Reading, has grown from 1,200 readers in 2003 to achieving its 10th million hit in January this year.

Narrative co-founders-editors Tom Jenks and Carol Edgarian

And what began as a two-person team, is now a global (though mostly unpaid) staff of 100 that pores over between 10,000 and 20,000 submitted manuscripts a year.

But, it ain’t easy.

“Publishing is hard,” said Jenks, with great understatement. “Just look at what is going on with newspapers.”

“Their ad revenue is not going anywhere and most of their websites are free. But a web-only newspaper could not support the same level of reporting that happens now in a traditional newsroom.”

“We weren’t even thinking about any kind of ‘models’ when we started Narrative,” said Jenks. “But the New York Times, when they reversed themselves and took down their pay wall for content, has proven that a web subscription-only model is probably not going to work.”

Both Jenks and Edgarian admit that in the online world, “A lot is up in the air.”

“All we are trying to do is publish the best work and the best writers and hope that people keep reading!” enthused Edgarian.

Two of those writers were also in attendance, both of whom recently won the Narrative Below 30 Contest for submissions: San Francisco author Kara Levy and Alison Yin, an Oakland photographer and photojournalist at the Modesto Bee.

“Having my work published on Narrative was pretty amazing,” said Yin, enthusiastically. “Within two days, I had an email from a schoolteacher in rural Oregon. His class just created a journal featuring the student’s work. He said that if I was ever up in St. Helen’s, to stop by the school.”

Exemplifying Narrative’s wide range of writers, author Robert Stone and his snowy white beard stood out like a veritable éminence grise in contrast to his fellow, fresh-faced contributors.

Stone first met Jenks when he was writing articles back during Jenks’ Esquire days. And from those heady days of the publishing world’s heyday, Stone knows well from the (real-time) camaraderie and fellowship that used to be a signature of the toiling writer’s life.

“Writing is such a solitary occupation as it is,” said Stone. “Now with the internet and people working from home and on their own, it’s solitariness with a vengeance.”

Stone freely admits that he’s not all that familiar with the workings of the Internet.

“It’s all new to me -- I’m an old guy,” said Stone, laughing. “But it seems the possibilities are limitless. Though I’m not sure exactly what those possibilities are! But for my grandchildren, sure. It introduces them to a world with an unlimited consciousness.”

His wife, Janice Stone laughed at her husband’s admission.

“Whatever makes people read, even if it's on a lighted plastic screen,” said Janice Stone, “Well, then, God bless them!”

Hostess Diane Frankel (left) with John and Tina Keker

Kay Walker, Daniel Lurie and Adriane Iann

Jeremy Stone and Phyllis Moldaw

Authors Jennifer Egan and Tobias Wolff helped co-host the event

Maryon Davies Lewis and Sandy Walker

Janice Stone and her husband, author Robert Stone

Susan Gregory and Lucy Lewis

The Beat Within Senior Editor David Inocencio and Jeremy Stone

Narrative's 30 Below Contest winners author Kara Levy and photographer Alison Yin with Narrative author Bridget Quinn