The Baffler, Once More (this time with funding)

Monday, October 31, 2011

As the Chicago Reader reported in June, the long-form cultural criticism journal The Baffler is re-launching. However, there have been few updates about how and when until this week’s blog post, which prompted Baffler fans and lefties everywhere to celebrate the mag’s 15-year publishing deal with MIT Press. 

Founded in 1988 by Thomas Frank - author of What’s the Matter with Kansas - The Baffler was Chicago-based and notorious for its goal to "blunt the cutting edge.” This included skewering everyone from bankers to politicians (both sides of the aisle), and stories like Steve Albini’s “The Problem with Music” about indie rock bands and major record labels.

Political and social goals aside,The Baffler has a rocky publication history; it was last published in the spring of 2007; prior to that, it had been on hiatus since 2003. This was partially due to a 2001 fire at their offices and partly to the Baffler’s gleefully anti-establishment bent; for instance, Summers told the Chronicle of Higher Education that the Baffler used to have a “negative subscriber list…It had people they didn’t like so they wouldn’t let them subscribe.”

The new Baffler is more business-savvy. The MIT deal guarantees $500,000 over five years, with three annual issues guaranteed for those years and the first scheduled for March 2012. In addition to journalism and criticism, poetry, short fiction, cartoons, and photographs will be published in print and online. Even better, unlike many contemporary publications, The Baffler will be able to pay their staff and writers. Chicago-based no longer, it will run out of Cambridge, MA, where the new publisher and chief editor (and author of Every Fury on Earth)  John Summers lives. Other editors include Frank as founding editor; Chris Lehmann as senior editor, Edwin Frank as poetry editor, and Anna Summers (Summers’s wife) as fiction editor. There’s also a Chicago tie: The managing editor is Eugenia Williamson @eugenia_will, a Chicago native and current Boston Phoenix staff writer (in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that Williamson and I co-founded the literary blog Literago).

The Baffler’s reputation precedes it. In Chicago, it has been a cultural and artistic touchstone. As Julie Shapiro, Artistic Director of the Chicago’s Third Coast International Audio Festival, remembers, “It was the first ‘smartypants with humor’ publication I really took to...I always considered The Baffler among the "triumvirate" of cultural forces that drew me to Chicago: This American Life, The Baffler, Drag City record label.”

For me personally, a good litmus test of meeting someone has been if the magazine was on their radar or not. The people I wanted to hang out with were usually Baffler readers.

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