Three months ago, I did a thing that, for a long time, I had regarded as inconceivable: I resigned from Granta. Even now, the logic implicit in that ordinary, adult statement – I, an employee of a publishing company, resigned from my position in it – seems to me inadmissible, if only because I find it impossible to think of Granta as a place of work. No one edits a literary magazine because it’s a good job. And, as a rule, no one leaves. The editor stays with the ship until – well, until it goes down (which, finally, it always seems to do).
Why edit a literary magazine in the first place? The question was one of the first ones put to me by our first accountant, who – our dark balance sheet spread across the table of the pub – patiently explained why businesses exist: ‘So that,’ he said, ‘the people who own them can make money from them. This clearly is not the reason you started Granta. Why, then, do you believe Granta is a business? Do you have any idea?’
I had none. But does any editor? The wall of my sitting room at home is taken up almost exclusively with literary magazines. And while I have only skimmed through most, they are, all of them, a reassuring sight. My wall represents ten years in the life of John Lehmann (when he made Penguin’s New Writing), Cyril Connolly (Horizon), Ted Solotaroff (New American Review), Charles Newman (TriQuarterly) and Ben Sonnenberg’s noble Grand Street (a neat decade being the conventional life, it would seem, of the successful literary magazine); as well as three years when Saul Bellow wasn’t writing a novel (The Noble Savage), the fifteen years when T.S. Eliot wasn’t writing a poem (the Criterion), the twenty-five years when Daniel Halpern wasn’t writing enough (Antaeus) and the eighteen months when Craig Raine was not writing anything at all (Quarto); and, as profound, the months of anguish suffered silently by the other editors whose labours were not allowed to endure past the first, crushing consequences of the first printer’s invoice. For me, the comfort in this sight is in knowing that we all know what we’ve been through. Only the editors of literary magazines understand that it’s a preposterous thing to edit a literary magazine. They know the labour that goes into making one – I still don’t know why it should be so much work; what can be so difficult? My wall represents late nights and spilt ashtrays and bottles of drink that shouldn’t have been drunk, not then and not in such quantity; and other editors know how much time is spent on everything except editing: on worrying about money, usually, and invariably on the subject of its insistent absence. And they also appreciate the exquisite, even philosophical arbitrariness with which a magazine comes into existence: the transition from nothing, that terrifying condition of no pages, to something, a physical object that exists in the world, in a bookshop, in a parcel delivered by the Royal Mail, in someone’s hands on the Underground on the way to work, on a shelf in my sitting room.