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Q&A: Brigid Hughes, Editor, A Public Space

The former Paris Review editor discusses her new quarterly literary magazine

By David S. Hirschman - October 16, 2005
publicspace.gifmb's David Hirschman recently caught up with former Paris Review editor Brigid Hughes to discuss her new publication, A Public Space a Brooklyn-based quarterly that describes itself as an "independent magazine of literature and culture." The magazine, which launches in January, will feature fiction and poetry.

What was the genesis of A Public Space? What separates it from the other lit mags out there, and what kind of writing are you looking for? Is it more for established writers, or are you interested in finding new talent? Will it be as highbrow as the Paris Review, or are you modeling it more after the avant-garde McSweeney's set?

I don't want to create a magazine that can be so easily labeled. I hope the magazine, and the writers we publish, will be all of those things. Established and new. Highbrow as well as avant-garde. And more.

I don't think anyone goes into a bookstore looking for a highbrow book. You want a good book. Who's taking on an interesting idea? Telling an engaging story? Those are the writers—that's the work—I want to publish.

What was the hardest part about your stint at the Paris Review? Were you hampered by the history and aura of the magazine? What did you learn from your previous job that you're going to incorporate into this? Can you talk a little about the circumstances of your leaving? Were you surprised?

What did I learn from my previous job? Magazines are collaborations. The best magazines, the best ideas, come from a dialogue, with your fellow editors, writers, readers. For most of my time there, The Paris Review was a really wonderful, lively conversation. There was an openness—an invitation (an expectation) to question, to disagree, to be curious, to be wide-ranging in your interests.

That was what made the job interesting and worth doing.

The hardest part was the uneasy relationship between the magazine and the board of directors. The board had only recently been formed, and many of them hadn't been involved in the day-to-day life of the magazine before George [Plimpton] died. That changed suddenly, and it became a very different organization, with different goals.

I don't think I felt hampered by the history of the magazine. Quite the opposite. I remember rereading Denis Johnson's story "Beverly Home," which had appeared in the magazine before my time, on the bus ride to work one morning and just being staggered by how good it was. How could that not excite you? So no, the history didn't hamper me. The aura maybe—to the extent that people sometimes felt they knew the magazine by its reputation, and made judgments about it without having read the work.

Are you happier to be starting this new publication from scratch? What kinds of freedoms do you have in starting a new lit magazine?

I'm happier about many things. I feel like I kept the parts that I loved about The Paris Review, and now I get to add new things to the mix. And I'm very happy about my commute. A twelve-minute walk through Brooklyn, past the Mark Morris Dance Center, BAM, the DARE bookstore. It's a really stimulating environment. And everywhere I turn there are writers and artists.

In an ideal world, what place will "A Public Space" occupy in 5 years? Do you want it to be a niche mag where it's popular with those "in the know," an insider's mag held dear by those in the fold (like the Paris Review, in many ways), or do you want it to be mainstream and popular with a wide audience?

I hope A Public Space will have started an interesting conversation, about fiction, about literature, its place in our culture. I hope we'll have published work that takes on big ideas, that risks something. That matters. And I hope we'll have found an audience that is as curious, as ambitious in its interests, as those writers. I hope A Public Space will be held dear by a wide range of readers.

I was at a friend's house for dinner on Monday night, and at one point he pulled a book out of the bookcase in the hallway and thrust it into my hands. "You know, you have to read this." By the end of the evening, I had two books, a movie, and several website recommendations. That's the sort of reader I'd like for A Public Space.

David S. Hirschman is the news editor of mediabistro.com.



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