I had a friend who knew this guy who’d come to NYC to make it in the magazine business, and then he’d quit, or washed out, because of the stupidity of the magazine business, and now he was starting a literary rag. Something like that. Details were fuzzy. In fact, the whole story sounded a little preposterous. Except for the part about the magazine business being stupid. That sounded plausible. Anyway, my friend, who was herself a woman of mystery, said that this guy wanted something from me that had been rejected by a big magazine, and he was going to make an anthology of these rejected things. Well, that was easy. I too had suffered at the hands of the slicks. I produced some rescued prose to honor the request. Having heard that my rejected piece was now accepted by the literary magazine in question, I turned away to other obligations and thought about it no more. Until my friend, the woman of mystery, sent me a note saying that they had come up with the name for the magazine, and that it was to be called (as I remember it) Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern. I believe I gently suggested that this was not going to be a good name for a magazine, and therein did I indicate my lack of suitability as an advisory resource for this project. Still, later, I believe I got a galley or proof of my piece, and the rest of the magazine, and I saw, was astonished to see, was arrested to see, how beautiful the thing was, how idiosyncratically and thoughtfully the thing was designed. I mean, my idea of a literary magazine was that it was primarily a sleep-inducer, but with a noble purpose: to rescue from oblivion the work of some great voices out there who were teaching comp to engineers in Pittsburgh. Literary magazines were supposed to be homely and hard to deal with, but by reading them you insured that your list of crimes at the day of judgment would be somewhat reduced. Nevertheless, this magazine turned out to be beautiful, and its editor, uh, rather savvy, or even, let’s say, visionary, and so my friend, the woman of mystery, said I should meet the editor guy, in person, and we agreed to meet at a certain reading, and I met him and I said: Hey, I greet you at the beginning of a brave journey, which I think he thought was pretentious, but it was what Emerson said when he first encountered Whitman’s work (it was actually “great career,” not “brave journey,” when Emerson said it, but one does the best one can with spot quoting), and it was calculated to indicate my sense of the greatness of the thing-itself, the remarkable self-assurance and vision of the literary magazine with the oddly prolix name. In due course, I received issue number one. Which as we know now changed the literary magazine for good, if not American publishing entire. Issue number one was so funny and beautiful and creative that I decided to try to contrive a way to get into issue number two. And so it went after that.
Rick Moody has appeared in Quarterly issues 1, 3, 4, 8. 10, and 12. We’ll be giving away an Issue 4 and a Best of McSweeney’s to two lucky Quarterly subscribers who sign up today.