Michael Cart, award-winning author and recognized expert in the field of young adult literature, has taken a leap into what he hopes will be considered a new way of thinking about the YA genre.
Beginning next April, a semi-annual journal named Rush Hour, aimed at older young adults (readers 16-22), will be published by Random House, with Cart at the helm as founding editor. Based on the model of the British magazine Granta, Rush Hour will, according to Cart, contain the works of "seasoned authors" and will be "eclectic in its content."
The first conversation about the project took place about a decade ago, between Cart and literary agent George Nicholson, who was then publisher of children's books for Delacorte, Doubleday, Dell and now serves as the agent for this new project. "We talked about the future of young adult literature and its decline, and we thought about having a magazine for older young adults," Cart recalled. The two continued to talk about the idea for years, but Nicholson said it really bloomed "when I called Michael and asked him what the definition of YA is." They saw that the YA book industry had changed greatly through time and really had three definitions. "It started out as the teen novel filled with innocence," Nicholson said, "The second definition is the problem novel: those that touched kids with social issues, such as pregnancy. Then five or six years ago a new YA developed. Now it's much more realistic and much darker."
With all that in mind, Cart and Nicholson put together a proposal for a literary journal with the aim of changing the way YA literature is thought of and published. Nicholson, in his role as literary agent, began shopping the idea around. "Most publishers thought it was too ambitious," he said. "They wondered about its content and if it would be sold through subscriptions." Then Craig Virden, former president of children's books at Random House, showed interest in the project, and it was brought on board there. When Virden departed the company last year, "he assured me that the commitment with Random House was still there," said Cart. And he was right. Nicholson noted, "Beverly Horowitz [v-p and publisher of Knopf, Delacorte, Dell Young Readers] was easily convinced that it was a good project."
Rush Hour will be published in two editions: hardcover for the institutional market and trade paperback for retail. The physical look of the journal will be that of a trade paperback, with a spine that contains the Rush Hour name, as well as the issue number and theme. There will be 224 pages in the first volume, which Cart says will be fairly typical, and it includes 15 submissions, including works by Brock Cole and Chris Lynch. The journal will be distributed through Random House Children's Books and will appear in their spring 2004 catalogue. It will be shelved with young adult books rather than magazines; for now, it will not be available by subscription.
Rush Hour will only include submissions from established authors at first, including never-before-published material in the form of short fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, personal essays or excerpts from forthcoming novels. The pieces will be, according to Cart, "edgy, but not necessarily provocative. We're inviting authors to really stretch, and some pieces may be experimental in form. We are never going to dumb down the content; we will publish material that respects young adults' intelligence." Each issue of the journal will focus on a single theme. "Sin" has been chosen for the first volume, with "Bad Boys" and "Face" following in issues two and three.
The process of getting authors to write for the journal is evolving. Cart made a presentation to editors and publishers in order to start the flow of submissions. He has also been in contact with literary agents and hopes that as the project attains a higher profile, agents and editors who work with adult authors will contact him.
When asked what the most exciting part about the project is, Cart first said, "The fact that the journal is unique and will contain sophisticated material." Then after thinking it over a little more, he added, "But my real excitement is that it is finally coming out."