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A Road more traveled
Ten issues and nearly six years after its creation, local literary magazine Post Road, helmed by Mary Cotton, still has the write stuff
BY TAMARA WIEDER

I NOT ONLY fall on them and read them like hot news when they come in the door," raves author Jonathan Lethem about Post Road, in a blurb on the back of issue 10 of the literary magazine, "I keep them lined up on my shelf like little books, because thatís what they are."

Little books, indeed. Published twice yearly, the squat, bound, 200-plus-page Post Road certainly appears, aesthetically speaking, more book than magazine. And, crammed as each issue is with fiction, nonfiction, poetry, writersí recommendations, and offbeat "Etcetera" offerings, the Boston- and New YorkĖbased publication isnít your garden-variety read-it-and-toss-it periodical. "A lot of people donít really have an idea of what a literary magazine is, and what it takes to put it together," notes publisher and managing editor Mary Cotton. "In a way, it feels like it is more of a book, just because it takes so long in the process."

Since its founding in the fall of 1999, Post Road has aspired to attract an audience not just of fellow scribes but of general readers ó and to do it without necessarily featuring the work of prominent writers. Nearly six years later, with a circulation of 2000, Post Road continues to be a growing presence in the areaís literary community.

Q: Tell me how Post Road came to be.

A: My fiancé, Jaime Clark, was one of the founding editors. He and his friends had just finished an MFA program, and they were interested in starting up a literary magazine, but they didnít want to be doing what everyone else was. I know they were concerned with literary magazines being only read by writers, and what sort of relevance did they have to the actual reading community? So they wanted to start up a magazine that had things that tried to attract the general reader. Itís still very much a communal magazine, where each of the editors ó thereís three fiction editors, three nonfiction editors, and three poetry editors, and they each pick their own pieces; sometimes itís from the slush pile, sometimes itís from going out and finding pieces. They each have their own tastes, so it ends up having this nice mix of things instead of liking one certain type of poetry, or a sensibility in fiction, things like that. Then they added other sections to sort of supplement that; thereís a Criticism section that has more social-criticism pieces, rather than creative nonfiction. We have the Recommendations section, where we get bigger names to do short reviews of what theyíre currently reading or things that theyíve loved, which is great. Then also the Etcetera section, where we try to do different things. Weíre putting together Post Road 11 now ó Iím actually one of the Etcetera editors ó and weíre putting together a piece, just a listing of all the names that John Cheever uses in his short stories, because heís got so many interesting names. We like to do strange things like that.

Q: How do you attract a more general audience, rather than just writers?

A: I think a lot of people are intimidated by literary magazines for being overly self-concerned with what is literature. So I think the Etcetera section is definitely a looser section; it has a lot of fun things in it that donít take themselves too seriously, that are just a little different from the norm of poetry, fiction, nonfiction. Then also the Recommendations, I think itís really nice, because weíre able to use bigger names to get people, maybe, first to look at the magazine and say, "Oh, look, Rick Moodyís in this one." And then to go from there, and see what else is there.

Q: Why Boston? Was it just by default?

A: Several of the editors were based out of Boston, but Boston definitely became the epicenter of it. Several were based out of New York, so they tried to have those be the two points of focus. I guess just because they liked the idea of the Post Road [a 17th- and 18th-century mail route] being the connecting feature between Boston and New York, and having communities in both places. But yeah, it was partially by default, too. Mike Rosovsky, one of our fiction editors, is in Boston, and Tim Huggins of Newtonville Books is one of our Recommendations editors, and we definitely use him and his contacts in the community.

Q: How do you view the Boston literary community? It seems like itís been fairly vibrant over the last several years.

A: I think it definitely has, which is great. I know there are other lit mags that are coming up now; I mean, thereís always been Agni and Ploughshares, but now thereís Quick Fiction. Itís a cool magazine, and itís small, and itís also trying to do something different, short shorts, and trying to attract a different reader, too, who might not be into reading a 20-page story. And also Night Train is a big magazine. So I think thereís something about Boston thatís susceptible to it, thatís willing to come out and buy literary magazines and go to literary events. We actually just moved to Providence, but the nicest thing about Boston is that there are always things to go to, there are always people coming to town. It was just like a flood of writers coming in and talking.

Q: Howíd you get involved with the magazine? Whatís your background?

A: I got involved about a year and a half ago. I was still working on my MFA in creative writing, and I worked at Newtonville Books. Thatís how I got involved in the community. I met [author] Elizabeth Searle in my MFA program, and she introduced me to Tim Huggins at Newtonville Books, and we started going to readings there. It was just such an amazing community that I eventually got a job there and got involved with the people. Tim was working for the magazine then, and still is, and eventually it just came up that they happened to need a managing editor, so I happily volunteered for the job. Itís been wonderful. For about the past year, Jaime Clark, who was pretty much running the magazine before, had sort of handed the reins over to me. Heíd been doing it since the beginning, and he was burning out. So I came in with all this energy. I was happy to do what I could. Now Iím officially the publisher and managing editor.

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Issue Date: April 29 - May 5, 2005
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