Academic journal article Studies in American Fiction

'Studies in American Fiction' at Twenty Years: A Farewell Retrospective

Academic journal article Studies in American Fiction

'Studies in American Fiction' at Twenty Years: A Farewell Retrospective

Article excerpt

When the first issue of Studies in American Fiction appeared in May of 1973, it was both a commencement and a culmination. Behind the inception of a new journal were several years of planning and contemplation, the advice of colleagues and senior editors in the field, the awkward business of departmental and administrative support and funding, and the work of close friends and fellow travelers who contributed time and advice and good wishes to the new enterprise. Perhaps on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the first issue, and the transfer of editorial responsibility, I can be forgiven for pausing a few moments for a look back at the circumstances and people and scholarly contexts of the very beginning, seeking to come to account with accomplishments and failures, to pay tribute to those who assisted, and to bid "fare thee well" to those who will carry on.

Deep in the background of the journal is the fortuitous circumstance that although I had gone to graduate school at Pennsylvania State University in order to study Ernest Hemingway with Philip Young, that department was also home to seven scholarly journals, among them The Chaucer Review, The Shaw Review, and the Journal of General Education, as well as the MLA International Bibliography. As graduate students, we lived in the midst of scholarly publication, and we were encouraged early to get out articles and conference papers and to participate in the profession. As a doctoral student in 1969, my first two articles had just appeared, I had received a contract for an anthology of short stories, and Harrison T. Meserole, Bibliographer for the Modem Language Association, had asked me to cover roughly sixty journals in American literature for the annual list. That project involved not only providing documentation for articles and books but analyzing the essays to determine which scholars might find them of greatest value in order to determine placement in the bibliography

It was an instructive exercise. I had never before looked at the journals in American literature as a pattern of coverage, as a profession-wide expression of scholarly interest. Although there were at that time some 3,000 journals in language and literature generally, only a small portion of them were devoted to American literature, a relatively new field that had emerged only in the 1920s with the founding of a new section of MLA and a journal to cover its concerns. My area of specialty had always been the fiction of the United States, and I was astonished to discover that no scholarly periodical was devoted exclusively and comprehensively to that genre. American Literature was well established, rather permanently, but it covered all genres, publishing only an article or two each issue on fiction. Modern Fiction Studies had originated the decade before, but it dealt with all nations and only with "modernism," and Nineteenth-Century Fiction was similarly expansive within its period. American Quarterly was another of the distinguished journals, but it championed American Studies, publishing articles of broad cultural application. It seemed to me there was room for another journal, directly in the area of my primarily interest, and I began investigating the logistics and plausibility of such a periodical. A year later, it became part of my applications for an Assistant Professorship and a point of discussion in my interviews at MLA in December of 1970. And that was how I came to spend two decades of my life in Boston.

There had never been a scholarly journal at Northeastern University in any field, and when I visited that campus in February of 1971 as part of the hiring process, there was considerable enthusiasm on all levels for establishing a journal. Paul Wermuth, Head of the Department, was trying to encourage research and publication within a faculty that was required to teach far too much and to conduct research with virtually no support. Robert Shepard, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, was extremely pleasant but despaired of funds to underwrite any new project. …

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