FEATURING: Chris Kraus, Carmen Maria Machado, Mukoma Wa Ngugi, Tanya Agathocleous, Sarah Chihaya, Sophie Duvernoy, Min Hyoung Song, D. A. Miller, E. Alex Jung, Summer Kim Lee, Clifford Thompson, Sheri-Marie Harrison, Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft, Yxta Maya Murray, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Kaya Genç, Steph Cha, MariNaomi, Kelly Link interviewed by Helen Oyeyemi, NoViolet Bulawayo interviewed by David Palumbo-Liu, Prageeta Sharma, Don Mee Choi, Charif Shanahan, Jenny George, Jorie Graham, Natalie Scenters-Zapico, Mary Ruefle, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Diana Khoi Nguyen, Richie Hoffman, Michael Robbins, and Amanda Gorman
Featured Artists: Amita Bhatt, Noah Davis, Roula Nassar, Asuka Anastacia Ogawa
In putting together this special 10-year anniversary issue of our Quarterly Journal, we surveyed thousands of pieces on LARB’s site, pored over hundreds of them, and discussed dozens in detail, making difficult decisions at each step. Difficult, yes — but also deeply affirming. The great variety of the work LARB has published over the last 10 years, as well as its invariably high quality, filled us with pride. For me, it was also a trip down memory lane. In pandemic days, of course, any trip is welcome, but I was especially grateful for this chance to assess how far LARB has come and to revisit once more its humble yet daring beginnings.
Our work on the issue brought me all the way back to the journal’s first days, long before it grew into the venerable multimedia arts organization it is today — an organization that feels like it’s been an institution for far longer than its 10 years. I was lucky enough to participate, in a small way, in LARB’s making. In late 2010, when I volunteered to join the staff, the Los Angeles Review of Books didn’t really exist. It wasn’t even the Tumblr page that first bore that name. It was little more than a dream, a gleam in the eye of our founder, longtime editor in chief, and now publisher, Tom Lutz. Yet it wasn’t his dream alone. It was one he shared with all the early volunteers, some of whom are still with us today, and some of whom have gone on to brilliant careers elsewhere. The dream was to form a space for deeply engaged cultural conversations, to foster voices too often excluded from such conversations, and to fortify Los Angeles’s place on the literary map.
Most daring of all was Tom’s dedication to forming this space on the web, with its seemingly infinite but, at that time, still unproven possibilities. Online literary and cultural magazines of global stature now proliferate, but LARB was early out of the gate; in fact, it opened the gate for Reviews of Books based in cities from Chicago to Hong Kong. As a lifelong student of regionalism and advocate of cosmopolitanism, Tom envisioned a thriving, decentered cultural landscape — in which LA was one of many vibrant intersections — at a moment when all the talk was about the internet’s role in the decline of local newspapers and the death of the book. The first piece we published was Ben Ehrenreich’s learned and stirring rebuke to the book’s premature undertakers, in which he quotes a story by Bruno Schulz: “a strange characteristic of the script, which by now no doubt has become clear to the reader: it unfolds while being read, its boundaries open to all currents and fluctuations” (“The Book,” translated by Celina Wieniewska). A brilliant description of literature writ large, this passage can also serve as a kind of motto for LARB: we too have kept our boundaries open to all currents and fluctuations over the past decade, and, with the help of our readers, we will continue to unfold in the decades ahead.
What you will find in these pages are profiles of major artists in various realms, from Miles Davis to Luchita Hurtado to Jonathan Gold; deeply engaged, deeply informed, and deeply felt encounters with books from around the world, including Elena Ferrante’s The Lying Life of Adults, two translations of Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz, and an anthology of contemporary African writing; poems by the likes of Pulitzer Prize-winner Jorie Graham and MacArthur Fellow Don Mee Choi; some of our finest film and television coverage (a genre in which we Angelenos were obligated to excel); as well as a remarkable roundtable on the riot/rebellion of 1992 with Steph Cha, Gary Phillips, Jervey Tervalon, and Nina Revoyr, and critical pieces by other local leading lights, such as Chris Kraus and Amanda Gorman.
Taken together, these pieces reflect, but do not exhaust, the best of what LARB has to offer. We could have easily gone on expanding this volume — but the map is not the territory. Let the contents of this issue serve as a mere sample of LARB’s extraordinary archive. Do as an LA private eye would and launch your own investigation into the site. In one of the first pieces I edited for the journal in 2011, which is not included here, Jefferson Hunter describes Ross Macdonald’s hardboiled yet kind-hearted PI Lew Archer “looking over Los Angeles on a night after an exhausting day.” What he sees is “something comprehensible if we put our minds to it; a testing-ground for our dependence on and our responsibilities to the natural world; a vast, luminous, infinitely connected community stretching ‘between the mountains and the sea like a living substance.’”
That’s the conclusion to a piece from 2011, describing a scene in a novel from 1973, but it is every bit as resonant today as it was a decade ago — perhaps more so. As we enter LARB’s second decade, the world around us remains comprehensible, but it seems to take an ever greater effort to put our minds to it. Los Angeles remains a testing-ground, but our responsibilities to the natural world have grown heavier. Our community, meanwhile, has grown vaster, more luminous, more intricately connected; thank you for being an indispensable part of it.
— Boris Dralyuk, Editor-in-Chief