The Los Angeles Review of Books turned 10 this year

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Los Angeles Book Review was conceived over a decade ago during a dark time for the print literary ecosystem.

Tom Lutz, writer and professor of creative writing at UC Riverside who began his career as a reviewer, has been dismayed by the domino collapse of book reviews in newspapers across the country – robust and distinct sections who introduced him to literary culture when he was a short-term cook and part-time student in Dubuque, Iowa. What a shame, he thought, that future generations don’t have that kind of access and that writers don’t have that kind of exposure.

He decided to do something about it; he founded LARB – a primarily online forum for critics and writers, established and emerging, to expand and develop ideas – and has secured funding from Hollywood players ranging from a Disney family member to the creator of “Mad Men” Matthew Weiner.

Ten years later, the mainstream media landscape has in many ways continued to wither, as local newspapers disappear at an accelerating rate and only one major independent newspaper book review survives in the United States. mature, exposed to the sun that once shone only on Sequioas supports. And LARB, while still a rambling upstart compared to the New York and London namesakes, is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a sense of pride and even vindication.

Tom Lutz started the Los Angeles Review of Books in 2011 as newspaper book reviews declined.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

On Thursday evening, the multimedia organization – which oversees the online newspaper as well as the LARB Radio Hour, the release workshop and numerous events – marked the milestone with a virtual birthday party, hosted by Executive Director Irene Yoon and editor-in-chief Boris Dralyuk. Prominent authors including Margaret Atwood, Steph Cha, Victoria Chang, Dean Rader and Lynne Thompson offered readings and toasts.

The celebration was also a launch party for the anthology issue of The Quarterly Journal, the print edition nominated for LARB’s Pushcart Award.

Describing himself as a “staunch optimist,” Lutz admitted that he underestimated the amount of work required to launch the publication – not to mention the costs, both financial and psychological, of doing so.

“Some people made fun of the New York publishing establishment, literally made fun of it,” he said, “and we were spurred on by that kind of provincialism.”

And yet, he also underestimated his potential. In his first makeshift office in his Silver Lake home, Lutz never imagined he would become the cultural force he has.

“We had hundreds of thousands of readers almost immediately,” he said in an email. “And it never occurred to me that nearly 40% of our readers would live abroad, or that we would approach and even exceed the readership of traditional publications.”

Looking back over the past decade, “I am grateful that I have been fortunate enough to help build something which, through the efforts of many people, has become a lifeblood in the world of books,” said Lutz said. “Books, after all, saved my life, and I’m glad I had the chance to thank you in this way. “

With some 500,000 pageviews per month, LARB has secured a place among the country’s leading cultural magazines, serving as a West Coast counterweight to and exceeding the East Coast-centric book world too – all the more so. that the top five house publishers are based in New York, along with the New York Review of Books, the New Yorker, and the New York Times Book Review.

For more than 100 years, more than 90% of editing in the United States has been done in New York City, said Albert Litewka, chairman of the board of directors of LARB and former chairman of Macmillan.

But Los Angeles – despite its thriving cultural, artistic, and academic institutions and numerous writers – lacked a hub for literary criticism.

It was exactly this glaring disparity that led Lutz and Litewka to conclude, as Litewka put it, “that it is time for a new post with a different focus coming from a different place.” And it turned out to be a brilliant idea at the right time.

The result is a journal that gives critics a chance to breathe, to develop arguments about culture up and down in the space offered by the Internet, without the many printing burdens that plague reviews as thick as the New York Review. of Books, the London Review of Books and the Bookforum. Funders such as film editor Susan Morse, Chairman of the Board of Directors of CalArts Timothy Disney and director-producer Bill Benenson are helping LARB in this mission. In 2019, the organization brought in at least $ 908,880, including $ 673,630 in grants and contributions, according to the 2020 tax forms.

LARB has published more than 5,000 reviews, essays, interviews and articles in some 40 different fields, from architecture to fiction, including politics, cinema and history. He has also produced over 500 multimedia pieces and organized readings and other events across the city. The LARB Radio Hour airs weekly on KPFK; a virtual literary festival dedicated to the anniversary, “The Semi-Public Intellectual Sessions”, wrapped up last month in collaboration with institutions like the Thomas Mann House.

    Two people on Zoom raise their glasses

LARB’s Boris Dralyuk, left, and Irene Yoon raise drinks on the organization’s 10th anniversary.

(Los Angeles Book Review)

Five years ago, the organization launched the LARB Publishing Workshop, a scholarship training program for students interested in producing books and magazines. This year’s virtual summer program included trainings and speeches from industry professionals from institutions such as Riverhead, Catapult and The New York Times Magazine.

For Yoon, the workshop is at the heart of LARB’s work.

“There is really a focus on creating a creative space for people from all walks of life to come and do a really good job and to nurture that,” she said. “And it’s about making publishing, the literary arts, and big ideas and writing accessible to people who may not always be, because publishing is historically so difficult to do.” enter. “

The nonprofit has helped launch careers while publishing many writers in their prime; contributors include Hanif Abdurraqib, Mike Davis, Myriam Gurba, Roxane Gay, Juan Felipe Herrera, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Amanda Gorman, Leslie Jamison, Carmen Maria Machado, Don Mee Choi, Maggie Nelson and the late Jonathan Gold.

It is the combination of discovering new writers and working with masters that Dralyuk considers the most exciting part of his job.

“That thrill never fades. It continues to excite me how many people learn about our existence every day, how many writers contact us to share their work, ”he said. “The ability to attract talent, to raise talent, to raise new voices, new voices, these are points of pride.”

But at its core, LARB’s mission is to make incisive writing accessible (its online content is free), eliminate the native snobbery of some of its East Coast ancestors, and present LA as a thriving cultural capital. beyond Hollywood.

“We are a city of immigrants, a global city, a city that produces exciting literature in a variety of languages, and we see ourselves as a mirror of that creative potential,” Dralyuk said.

“We want to bring Los Angeles and its culture to the world and bring the world culture to Los Angeles – to act as a kind of hub for the city’s literary scene” not as a singular entity, “but as part of this growing constellation of institutions, ”he continued.

As for the next 10 years of the organization, Litewka envisions a future very similar to the present but with more activity and, resources permitting, greater coverage of books from other countries and languages. “We hope to grow our readership and increase our fundraising over the years,” he said, “but we don’t anticipate a dramatic increase in income.”

If they want to get there, he knows that the future must be approached with prudence and strategy “in order to remain viable”.

“A lot of publications have come and gone even in those 10 years,” he lamented. “We have come, but we are not going.”

On Thursday evening, readers and contributors from Riverside, San Diego, Portland and as far away as Chicago, New York and Guadalajara, Mexico attended the anniversary celebration.

A man dressed in a black t-shirt, black rimmed glasses and a black baseball cap is sitting in a restaurant booth

“It turned out to be a brilliant idea at the right time,” said Albert Litewka, chairman of the board of directors of the Los Angeles Review of Books.

(Albert Litewka)

Virtual toasts were given along with wine, soda water and other drinks and there was no shortage of drunken smiles.

“[LARB] is the impossible dream, ”said Janet Fitch, author of“ White Oleander, ”raising a glass. “It’s the little engine that could. Anytime I have something I really want to say and want to be able to follow it through the twists and turns. … I think first of LARB as a place for such a conversation.

Quentin Ring, Executive Director of the Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center in Venice, said: “Happy Birthday to the Los Angeles Review of Books… we have so much love and gratitude for everything you have done for literary LA in the past. . 10 years. ”

Atwood, author of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and other dystopian novels, said: ‘At a time when so many people seem to be screaming, we really need publications like yours in which people think thoughtfully and with consideration. .

And Lutz, beaming from the hills of Sicily in a pre-recorded video message, wished the next generation of LARB the best. “,


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