Jewish World Review July 24, 2012/ 5 Menachem-Av, 5772
Tale of the South
By Paul Greenberg
The Oxford American is a peripatetic journal of Southern culture whose checkered past has been a series of crack-ups. It got started back in 1992 in
Now both its founding editor and managing editor have been fired in circumstances not yet completely clear. The one good thing you can say about its latest crisis is that at least it's more interesting than anything the magazine has published in years. The combination of mystery, scandal and general confabulation surrounding the OA's latest misadventure has all the makings of a good second-rate Southern novel.
Naturally, this potboiler comes with the usual talk of a lawsuit. The magazine is called the American, after all, and litigation is our common national plague North or South. This latest scandal out of the OA comes with an admixture of speculation, aka gossip, and what could be more Suthuhn than that?
It's all enough to give any faithful follower of cheap fiction, or even cheap non-fiction, the vapors. Aunt Amanda would be just thrilled to death, while old Colonel Ambrister would probably just snort, and dismiss the whole matter in a word. ("Typical!")
A publisher's dream the OA has never been, though its various collapses might qualify as an accountant's nightmare. All through its ups and downs, or rather downs and further downs, the magazine has remained what it was at the start: a great idea. But one that has never fully blossomed -- or taken root.
It's a great dream, to resurrect Southern writing in the spirit of
Instead, it's been left to a glossy latecomer like Garden & Gun to combine both of those in fine Southern and commercially successful style.
Who ever thought the South would have anything to do with commercial style? Wasn't that sort of nouveau thing fit only for Yankees, carpetbaggers and scalawags? One can imagine
Granted, there have been all those New South types who promised to industrialize us from time to time. They've kept coming along since The War destroyed the old one. Even if some of us refuse to believe it's gone, and try to keep it alive as a kind of tourist attraction.
But the New South types always gave way to Newer South types who proved just as ephemeral. Nothing lasts in these latitudes except dreams. And it's the pillared past we dream of, not some glass-and-chrome future. For a prettied-up South wouldn't be the real one.
Ah, the South, the South, the South.... We never tire of talking about her. And how, like the Oxford American, we keep failing to bring back her Faulknerian glory. Let's put it this way: The OA remains the magazine of the future in these Southern parts and, sadly, may always be.
That's very Southern, too -- the dream never fulfilled. Issue after issue, this little magazine set out to answer the question every Yankee keeps asking: "What is life really like down there?" But, bless its heart, the OA got so caught up in its self-absorption, it never seemed to have sufficient time, talent, money or perspective to really answer the question.
The magazine did succeed in personifying Yankee editors' idea of what an interesting Southern literary/cultural journal should be. Which is scarcely the same as the real thing. You might as well trust a German to say what
Now that its Founding Editor has been cleared away, like an old plantation being cleared of underbrush, the Oxford American may yet find itself. Though it may be too much to hope that it will ever find the South.
Yet someday, who knows, the OA might fulfill its potential. It could still happen. The way The New Yorker started to sound a bit more like its old
Good luck, ever new, ever displaced, ever shook-up Oxford American. You've still got a great future, kid, the danger being that that's all you will ever have -- and never a great present. For a great magazine requires a great editor.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.
if (strpos(, "printer_friendly") === 0)
=<< © 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
© 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.