Anthology Review

They’re At It Again:
Stories from Twenty Years of Open City
edited by Thomas Beller and Joanna Yas
(Open City Books, 2011)

When I was an 18-year-old kid learning about contemporary fiction, I would go to the indie journal section at Trident Books in Boston, and I would purchase copies of Open City. To me, it was one of the coolest journals in the universe, and it changed my writing forever. Later, when I would become a small potatoes journalist while in graduate school for writing in NYC, I was given the opportunity to go to the Open City offices and interview Rick Rofihe of the Open City Rofihe Trophy and anderbo.com. As Thomas Beller writes in the introduction of They’re At It Again: Stories from Twenty Years of Open City, Open City’s history is long. It is a history that includes fellow Open City editors and founders (I would be remiss if I did not mention their names), Robert Bingham and Daniel Pinchbeck, plus current editor Joanna Yas. Without a generational collective effort, Open City would not have bloomed as it did.

The collection is expansive, representative of the power of the literary journal and what creative, edgy publishing can do in the literary landscape. Stories from Jonathan Baumbach to Luis Jaramillo. Early seen, later edited and re-published works by David Foster Wallace. Irvine Welsh’s first American published story. Rivka Galchen, Walter Kirn, Phillip Lopate. Dozens of gorgeous, gorgeous, sometimes grotesque, stories. All of them models to study, to look up to, to learn from. Seven hundred and ninety-four pages of literature. Seven hundred and ninety-four pages of the short story tradition.

From Paul Bowles’s 17 Quai Voltaire:

There was cold at the other end of the line.
“So you’re back in Paris,” said Gertrude Stein.
“Yes.”
“Why don’t you go to Mexico? You’d last about two days.”

In The Chicago Reader, in 2003, JR Jones wrote about Richard Yates:

He drove away wives, children, friends, and potential employers with his verbal abuse, his psychotic episodes, and his serial nervous breakdowns. Yet many of those interviewed for the book, myself included, remember Yates with great affection: at his best, which is how I saw him much of the time, he could be disarmingly candid and grimly funny, especially regarding himself.

Most importantly, Jones discusses what is known to many as the “lost” manuscript. Yates was writing to the end, and the unfinished novel that would later come to light would first come to be published as a short story excerpt in Open City. That story now appears in They’re At It Again.

From Richard Yates’s Uncertain Times:

In her quiet way she seemed to have read every book in the world...there was a subtle rolling of “r”s in her way of saying “horrible” and “art” and “America.”
“I mean you know, keep on with your book. If the work’s going well everything else has a way of falling into place around that.”
“I know but it’s not going very -yeah, I know.”
“You could probably get a Guggenheim.”
“Had it already. Two years ago.”

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