Last month, John Freeman, former president of the National Book Critics Circle, and former editor of Granta magazine, announced that he will be partnering with Grove Atlantic on Freeman's, a new series of anthologies. PW spoke to Freeman about returning to editing, and what we can expect from the new venture.
Can you talk a little bit about how Freeman's came to be?
It's quite simple, I missed editing. Even when you're not doing much to a text as an editor, there's a lot of collaboration involved, and a chance to be an advocate for someone and something you admire. I love doing that. There are so few opportunities in life to stand behind something purely, but you can with art and culture. Just a year outside of Granta I've come across writers I want to read more from, and one of the great things about editing is being in a position to ask for more. There are a finite number of places of course for an editor to go after a job like the one I had at Granta, so I thought it would be a lot more fun and challenging to start something new, and Morgan Entrekin was not just up for it at Grove, but enthusiastic. Now the journal will be published in Australia too, with Text Publishing, and I'm hoping to get it published in England, too.
Do you have any thoughts on the first themes you will explore?
A theme in this context is like a doorway to the house. It might look different, issue to issue, but it's function is basically to get you inside. To bring you into it, to borrow a title of a poetry collection by Lawrence Joseph. That's what we read for, I think, to get closer, to ask questions the structures of our lives sometimes obscures: what do we think about? How do we dream? What barriers do we face to being human? What deserves to be witnessed? These are just examples of questions that can lead to something intense and essential in storytelling: which is a way of asking questions in narrative form. I'll be led here by the writers, who are always far better antennae than editors, I think, when it comes to finding the important questions.
How do you think editing the anthologies might differ from editing a literary magazine? What parts of the job will remain constant?
Freeman's will have fiction, nonfiction and some poetry, and I will edit with the same principles or standards I applied to Granta. As in, I'm looking for pieces writers have to write, that only they can write, pieces that are close to the bone. In that sense Freeman's won't be that different than a literary journal. But it will only come out twice a year, so that means the pressure or possibility of being newsworthy in a superficial sense will be greatly reduced. This isn't such a bad thing, I think, because our news environment suffers from such a catastrophic lack of context that journals and anthologies like this can provide a much needed missing link for readers.
Where do you envision the anthologies, which you called "a home for the long form," fitting into the new publishing ecosystem?
There was a time when journals like the Partisan Review, Evergreen Review, changed the way we thought, when a hole emerged in the machinery that delivered and presented news. The New York Review of Books, at times the London Review. But I think as important as changing thought is to provide a new way to imagine the circumstances of our world. This is where I'd like Freeman's to fit in to the ecosphere I see around me today. I know it's possible because I can see the writers around who make it so, which is exciting because I know there's certainly a whole host of writers I don't know exist, and my other hope is this journal finds a way to publish the best of them.