Report by Bekah Blanchard
The impact and reach of McSweeney’s since it’s birth in 1998 cannot be overstated. Since Dave Eggers, the current and only editor that McSweeney’s has been under, began his lit mag, it has grown to encapsulate a well-renowned publishing house, a hugely popular online presence, and has released both a consistent quarterly review, a quarterly DVD featuring short films as of 2012, and separate food and sports journals. Established apart from any institution, Dave Eggers began McSweeney’s after the passing of Might, his previous and more editorial-based magazine. Might was published in partnership with David Moodie Marny Requa and ran from 1994 to 1997. After Might ceased to exist, Eggers decided to begin his own magazine, featuring mainly literature and art instead of editorial content. The name McSweeney’s came from the maiden name of Egger’s mother and the full title is Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern. Based out of San Francisco, the magazine features art, fiction, and nonfiction alike. The importance of McSweeney’s in the context of the literary journal world lies heavily in in the online platform that Eggers has established alongside his physical magazine. McSweeney’s Internet Tendency provides “daily humor almost every day since 1998” and has articles written about nearly everything, from satire relating to the most recent Game of Thrones episode to sarcastic reviews of political antics. This evolution from the literary world to the online one reveals the true significance of McSweeney’s and outlines the success that the literary journal has achieved. Navigating the online world and bridging the gap between classic literature and pop culture by establishing various mediums that appeal to the general public allows McSweeney’s to be considered one of the best lit mags being published currently.
Following the downfall of Eggers’ joint-project Might, he began McSweeney’s with an intent to publish more literary works. The current stated mission of the magazine is first that“McSweeney’s exists to champion ambitious and inspired new writing, and to challenge conventional expectations about where it’s found, how it looks, and who participates.” To champion “ambitious and inspired new writings” is a bold statement, but over the years of the lit mag, Eggers has published accomplished voices like Denis Johnson, Joyce Carol Oates, David Foster Wallace, Stephen King, and Susan Straight. Publishing these well established writers has allowed McSweeney’s to be a part of many emerging writers’ journeys as well. Eggers has gotten submissions from and published writers like Rebecca Curtis, Wells Tower, and Paul Legault. With contributions from names like these alone, McSweeney’s has accomplished much and has shown remarkable sense of style in the literary world.
However, the second part of the stated mission is where the important bit is. McSweeney’s works to “… help [things we love] find their more resplendent form, and imagine new ways to bring them to you.” This part of the McSweeney’s mission is evident in every piece of work they publish, whether it is in the quarterly publication, the Internet Tendency, the Wholphin DVD, or any other book that the publishing house turns out in a year. In addition to the success of the multimedia approach, the production of McSweeney’s is also above and beyond. There were issues with 3D folds inside, one issue was created in the form of a pile of mail, one included an engraved comb, some have CDs inside, and one with half of the magazine in Icelandic. The creativity of Egger and the production team managing the publication is phenomenal and keeps the magazine fresh and new, an important feature in the literary world of the times. However, the value of McSweeney’s goes far beyond the physical appeal of the quarterly magazine.
It’s impossible to talk about Dave Eggers’ McSweeney’s without covering McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. The website adds immense value to the magazine and is one of the main reasons why McSweeney’s can be considered among some of the best literary magazines of the current times.
With rising tensions over whether or not paper publishing would hold up with the rise of the internet and ebooks in the early 2000s, McSweeney’s rose to the challenge of integrating the two and created a wonderful online platform that now houses their more blog-style, humorous publications and articles. The paper magazine still thrives, but the company as a whole has increased in value immensely with the addition of the online presence. The Internet Tendency is a free site to use as well, requiring no subscription to the magazine to access. This type of free publication is risky, but has paid off, especially as McSweeney’s has further expanded to become a publishing company, publishing around 30 books per year. All of this expansion has allowed McSweeney’s to stay relevant in the modern world as ebooks have become more prevalent and the use of paper has been reduced. However, while the production and physicality of McSweeney’s has prospered, another integral part of their success lies in the work itself.
McSweeney’s accepts work that is “ambitious and inspired.” The content of the McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern has been consistently praised by institutions, winning the National Magazine Fiction Award three times and earning many other accolades that further solidify McSweeney’s place of importance in the literary world. Works published in McSweeney’s has helped catapult rising authors to the scene like Rebecca Curtis and Philipp Meyer. All of these great achievements that McSweeney’s have reached are wonderful, but what do they mean? Has success been reached?
Success in the literary sense is more than selling copies and making money: the longevity of a publication and the impact it has on the community reveals the true success. McSweeney’s was born in a challenging time for paper publications, yet has since adapted to societal changes and flourished while doing so. Since 1998, over 20 years, the lit mag has shared fiction and art from some of the largest names in the contemporary literature world while simultaneously allowing undiscovered voices to be heard. The creative and edgy designs of the publications have also set standards for other magazines and lifted expectations for design appeal. While McSweeney’s seems to be doing well, an interesting fact from the early life of the magazine may be important very soon. In 2002, in Issue 10, it was stated that there would only be 56 issues of McSweeney’s before a five year break would be had for “retrenchment.” The 55th issue was just recently published, making the next issue, Summer 2019, the potential last issue. As this issue approaches, it will be interesting to see if Eggers decides to let the magazine end fittingly, or take the five year break to reconnect and evaluate and potentially start again with Issue 57. In a classic lit mag move, he may end it, having allowed it it's time to succeed and prosper. I’m sure that the online presence will remain, but the physical, quarterly review may end. Overall, it’s clear that over the lifetime of McSweeney’s success was achieved on many levels. The longevity and survival of the paper mag in conjunction with the popular online presence has allowed McSweeney’s to reach thousands of people, both the literary inclined and not, and has achieved their mission of finding things they love and presenting them beautifully, which, I think, constitutes a wonderful success.
Eggers, Dave. "McSweeney's Issue 55." Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern - The McSweeney's Store, 2019, store.mcsweeneys.net/t/categories/timothy-mcsweeneys-quarterly-concern.
"McSweeney's Quarterly Concern." The Review Review, www.thereviewreview.net/magazines/mcsweeneys-quarterly-concern.
"McSweeney's." Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 20 Mar. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McSweeney%27s#Authors.
Terhune, Patty, et al. "McSweeney's Internet Tendency." McSweeney's Internet Tendency, www.mcsweeneys.net/.
"Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern." Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 9 Apr. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timothy_McSweeney%27s_Quarterly_Concern.