You can’t party inside a laptop: mini lit-mags convene to network and celebrate the season

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Party time at Housing Works. (Aparna Narayanan)
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The staffs of literary journals Lapham’s Quarterly, Slice, and The Coffin Factory—and their faithful supporters—filed into the Housing Works bookstore in Soho last night for the Lit Mag Office Party, a holiday party created for literary magazines so small they don’t have an office, or with too few staffers to populate much of a party on their own. The high-ceilinged bookstore was filled, as always, with rolling carts and A-frames laden with bargain books; but the strings of white lights stretching across the balcony loft’s wooden posts, a subtle holiday gesture, had rendered the place festive.

Amanda Bullock, the events director of Housing Works, rallied the attention of the milling guests to christen the party and announce that its proceeds would benefit the homeless and those with AIDS. Close by her, a couple of tables held recent issues of the three magazines along with other literary swag, items for a white elephant gift exchange, and cheap beer.

“Every magazine you buy goes to a good cause,” Bullock said, “and every beer you drink is a good deed. So you should feel free to do as many good deeds as you like.”

Guests hollered in approval. If they were disappointed that the party felt sedate—the promised karaoke failed to materialize, and the music was streamed in via Pandora (there was no dancing)—journal editors and guests didn't show it, chatting and drinking amiably and rather quietly. After Bullock, there was no further public address—nothing showy, just a get-together. Mostly young and smartly dressed, the crowd formed a few clusters, drained Six Points, and ribbed one another over the goofy gifts that were exchanged, traded, and re-traded—a bottle of ketchup, little wooden "stand-up" toys, a VHS copy of Planet of the Apes.

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Celia Johnson, the publisher of Slice, explained between greeting guests that she had come up with the idea for the event because of the limits of her own magazine’s “office.” Launched in 2007, the nonprofit magazine publishes twice a year and is almost entirely staffed by volunteers.

“Basically, [the office] is my apartment in Bensonhurst,” said Johnson, 29. “Some days it’s a café; if I’m traveling, it’s a plane. It’s really my laptop.” Together with Bullock, she conceived of the Lit Mag Office Party as a way to “develop synergy” among niche and start-up literary magazines that exist physically only in laptops or similarly cramped spaces and who seek to “converse and enjoy one another’s company.”

That was what drew Randy Rosenthal, editor of The Coffin Factory, a new player on the scene whose premiere issue (print run: 7,000) was on sale at the event. The idea of launching a literary magazine during a recession does not daunt him.

“The state of the economy fits in with the state of reading; it’s down,” he wrote in an email. “But we want to put out a magazine anyway, even though it might be illogical, because we know that there still are—and will be—many people who love reading books, and love literature in print, as we do.”

Partygoer Christina Kraemer, a social worker from Chicago, fit that bill.

“I subscribe to Esopus—I don’t know what it means, I forget—Bomb, Cabinet, the McSweeney’s magazine,” said Kraemer, a self-described book fanatic. Then she paused, giving her limonata a shake as she struggled to recall a name. “Paris Review! See? Too many, really. I can’t even remember them,” she continued, adding: “I like to support independent periodicals, and this is a good way to do it. Here I get to be at this party without being an office worker. I would hate to be an office worker.”