The mission of New Letters magazine is to discover, publish and promote the best and most exciting literary writing, wherever it might be found. We publish and serve readers and writers worldwide. In recent years, New Letters has won a National Magazine Award, the industry’s highest honor, plus multiple Pushcart Prizes, and is reprinted often in the Best American anthology series.
In the winter of 1934, the small, private University of Kansas City began publishing The University Review. The name was changed in 1944 to The University of Kansas City Review. With the Spring issue in 1938, the late Alexander P. Cappon became its editor. He remained editor of The Review for the next 33 years. During that time, America fought three wars and inaugurated six presidents, we entered the Atomic Age and watched a man walk on the moon, the University became part of the larger University of Missouri system and many of today’s authors were born. But The Review’s high standards and stated mission didn’t change.
On the publication’s first masthead, the editors announced their hope was “to reflect the cultural life of this section of the United States by providing a medium for the publication of the finest writing obtainable here.” They welcomed all manuscripts, “the sole test of acceptance being that of literary quality.”
By the end of its second year, The Review had published a wide variety of works from notable authors, including: a discussion on “Art and Social Struggle” between Thomas Hart Benton and Diego Rivera; a story by Vance Randolph; a poem by Edgar Lee Masters; and a personal note by Pearl S. Buck. Under Dr. Cappon’s editorship, the publication featured many other authors of note including May Sarton, J.D. Salinger, e.e. cummings, Marianne Moore, May Swenson, James T. Farrell, Kenneth Rexroth and many more writers who were already well-known or just becoming so.
In 1971, The Review appointed a new editor, David Ray, and began publishing under a new name: New Letters. Mr. Ray’s first issues contained works by literary giants Robert Bly, Cyrus Colter, Anselm Hollo, Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Hugo and Josephine Jacobsen. In 1972, Mr. Ray devoted an entire issue to previously unpublished work by and about Richard Wright. Over the years, special issues featured the works of Jack Conroy and introduced readers to new work from India.
THE RADIO ERA BEGINS
In 1977, David Ray and his wife, Judy, began the audio literature program New Letters on the Air, a half-hour radio program featuring writers reading and discussing their work. The radio program widened the scope of the magazine to promote great literature both on the page and on the air. Rebekah Presson produced and hosted each radio show for many years, succeeded in 1996 by Angela Elam. The venerable program aired more than 1,200 programs by many of the world’s preeminent writers.
LITERARY AWARDS INTRODUCED: A NEW ERA
In 1986, James McKinley took over as editor of New Letters. The magazine continued to attract new writing from well-known writers including: Amiri Baraka, Thomas Berger, former President Jimmy Carter, Annie Dillard, Tess Gallagher, William Gass, Charles Simic, John Updike, Miller Williams and many others. Lesser-known authors, some whose first published work appears in New Letters, continue to be featured. Since 1986, New Letters has also published several special issues, including the “Writer in Politics” and “Writer and Religion” issues, special issues dedicated to the writing of either men or women, and our interview issue, which contains interviews with Joseph Brodsky, Gwendolyn Brooks, Allen Ginsberg, Walker Percy and Derek Walcott, among others.
The first New Letters Literary Awards competition was held in 1986. Its purpose was to discover, encourage, reward, and publish fresh, new material from aspiring and accomplished writers. In the first year of the competition, over 1,600 entries arrived from established and emerging writers across the country and around the world. Today, the contest remains one of the most influential and has become a model for similar competitions sponsored by various literary organizations. Each year, hundreds of entries from writers from all over the globe receive professional, anonymous judging. The best entries are then featured in New Letters. Due to its continued commitment to anonymity and fairness, the New Letters Literary Awards has become one of the most respected literary contests in the country.
With the retirement of James McKinley in September of 2002, Robert Stewart took over the post of editor-in-chief for New Letters, New Letters on the Air, and their affiliate, BkMk Press. Stewart worked as managing editor under both David Ray and James McKinley, and played a central role in design, typography, and art direction as well as serving as a long-running voice in the magazine’s poetry selections. Over the years, he also worked with such regular essayists as Janet Burroway and Alberto Rios and published notable writers and poets Brian Doyle, Marilyn Hacker, Albert Goldbarth, Quincy Troupe, Daniel Woodrell, Maxine Kumin, Sherman Alexie and Charlotte Holmes. Under his guidance, the magazine has won the lauded National Magazine Award and has been regularly listed in the annual Best of editions for poetry, fiction and essays.
THE MISSION CONTINUES
In 2020 fiction writer Christie Hodgen succeed Robert Stewart as editor. The first woman editor in the magazine’s history, she continues to seek the best new writing, whether from established writers or those ready and waiting to be discovered, as she also creates a more dynamic presence for the literary operation in the digital world.
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