Southern Literary Journal Tries New tack.(NATION)

Article excerpt

Byline: Jennifer Harper, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

It is a 221-mile trip from Oxford, Miss., to Little Rock, Ark. Only time will tell, however, if that proves to be too far to travel for the Oxford American, the very flower of Southern literary-hood.

To survive, the polished but penniless magazine is trading Mississippi for Arkansas in a few weeks, joining At Home Media in Little Rock, which publishes a sleek decorating magazine. It's that or cease publication altogether.

Editorial content won't change, says spokesman Russ McDonough.

Five-and-dimes, kudzu, Aunt Pittypat's porch - rambunctious forays into all things southrun will stay, subject to the editorial sensibilities of Marc Smirnoff, who founded the magazine in 1992 as a forum for Ray Blount Jr. and Donna Tartt, not to mention a few lost works from Walker Percy and William Faulkner.

The name remains; there will be no "Little Rock American."

Meanwhile, mega-author and financial benefactor John Grisham, who kept the 34,000-circulation magazine afloat for eight years, will become a "partial owner." Last year Mr. Grisham, author of "The Firm" and other legal dramas, made it clear the Oxford American must break even or fold - no easy task for a regional, intellectual publication.

Luckily, Mr. Smirnoff received a last-minute reprieve from the Little Rock publisher, who promised a sound business strategy and double the circulation. But Oxford is not Little Rock: Mr. Smirnoff may be in for some cultural adjustments.

"It's a good move, but I am actually a little stunned this has happened," said Philip Martin, an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist and author of the "The Artificial Southerner," published last year.

"I've always maintained that Arkansas is not really deep South, like Mississippi, Georgia or Alabama. …