The Folio Club — Issue No. 1, ed. Robert Pranzatelli. $9
Writer and Editor Robert Pranzatelli recently launched a new book-style literary magazine, The Folio Club, which fuses underground sensibilities with classical literary values. Superbly produced, the book’s cover is adorned with a wraparound illustration by comics artist Onsmith, a real embodiment of what TFC is about.
I conversed with Pranzatelli via email. So great was his enthusiasm for the new endeavor that it was even transmitted electronically!
Tell me about Poe’s sketch “The Folio Club.” That’s where you got the name for the literary magazine, right?
Yes, I did. As a young man Poe wanted to do a satirical book called Tales of the Folio Club, with his stories presented as the works of a writers’ group whose members take turns reading them aloud. The initial sketch is a kind of overture, narrated by a furious ex-member of the group, and it is quite funny. Poe was essentially a comic writer; even his horror tales are structured like jokes, with their shock endings like punch lines. Anyway, I thought The Folio Club was a great name for a literary magazine, and I liked the double edge: Poe’s narrator notes that a clause in the group’s Constitution “forbade the members to be otherwise than erudite and witty” but he thinks they are “quite as ill-looking as they are stupid.”
There are so many literary journals now, why TFC? What makes it different?
Over the last few years I’ve greatly enjoyed a few small, self-published comics and zines, little homemade publications that reflect the personalities of just one or two people who create them. And these booklets and pamphlets have a kind of strength that I could never find in most literary journals. It’s the strength of an individual temperament, and the strength of being focused. So I gave myself permission to create a magazine that reflects my own tastes but stays sharply defined. The Folio Club is different simply by being itself—or, to be blunter, by being largely an extension of me. That’s really the crux of it, for better or worse.
Your first issue is pretty eclectic in terms of contributors: from comics artist Onsmith to Blondie songwriter Romy Ashby. What brings them together?
It’s partly my own taste that brings them together, but it’s also my knowledge of how committed they are to their art. Given that I wanted to create a publication with a consistent identity, I started with a small handful of brilliant and prolific individuals who might come back on a regular or at least semi-regular basis. I’m working on the second issue now, and I can tell you very happily that they’re all in it, every one of them, with great stuff.
You’ve said that you’re focused on the art of prose narrative in fiction and nonfiction. What do you mean?
When I use the term “prose narrative” most people see how it applies to fiction (short stories, tall tales, novellas) but there’s often a little uncertainty about the nonfiction half of the equation. The key point is that an essay can be narrative or not, to varying degrees, and I’m interested in the more narrative kind. So, for example, a personal story or nonfiction account, a memoir, an anecdote or reminiscence—these are likely to have a narrative structure. As, in the first issue, Romy Ashby’s walking around Brooklyn, observing details that others might overlook, and letting it unfold into a story. The story has a point, and a strong feeling, but she doesn’t turn it into an editorial. She turns it into a work of art.
And then, on the fiction side, there’s Mark Saba’s story “Asthma” which could practically be used as a model of the literary short story. It embodies all the classic virtues: narrative restraint, concise and precise prose, impeccably controlled point of view, a strong undercurrent of emotion—it’s pitch-perfect in terms of mood, style, tone. It’s like I lifted something from the Norton Anthology of Literature.
Tell me, is The Folio Club guided by other literary spirits from the past, besides Poe?
Oh, yes. Really I think the gold standard, in both fiction and nonfiction, can be found among my literary heroes, many of whom I’ve been writing about on the Folio Club blog: Woolf, Nabokov, Capote, E. M. Forster, Elizabeth Bishop (she wrote superb stories and narrative essays in addition to her great poetry). I haven’t written about Proust yet, but in the game of fitting essayistic content inside a poetic prose narrative he is the unrivalled champion.
I love the Onsmith cover. So great. Will the next issue contain more art or comics?
That cover generates instant enthusiasm in everyone who sees it. I love to show it to people and watch the reaction. Onsmith is doing the next two covers as well, which might make a kind of trilogy. He’s into it, and I love working with him. The cartoon art element will continue on the inside of each issue, too.
Do you foresee the publication of work in translation?
That’s an interesting possibility, though it hasn’t really appeared on the horizon so far. Actually, if I could have any foreign contributor of my choice, it would be another artist with a one-word pen name. I’d want Jean Giraud: Moebius. Unlikely, I know, but it’s a nice fantasy!
Thanks for your time, Robert. I look forward to the next issue of TFC, and hope for many more to come!
Mandorla: New Writing from the Americas — Issue No. 12, 2009 , eds. Roberto Tejada, Kristin Dykstra, Gabriel Bernal Granados. $10
Mandorla might be the most under-recognized venue for new writing in the country (or indeed, all of the Americas). Highlights of Issue No. 12 include Sesshu Foster’s “Interview with Juan Fish (Supposedly),” Daniel Borzutsky’s translations of Raúl Zurita’s 1985 Song for His Disappeared Love, and Jessica Díaz’ original poems. Mandorla is unusually comfortable with its bilingualism (in fact, it also includes concrete poetry in Portuguese, from the genre’s de facto American home in Brazil), publishing original literature in both English and Spanish, sometimes in translation but seldom with both featured en-face, and though that expectation might heighten its inaccessibility for some, the respect it pays the bilingual literary community makes for an incredibly diverse array of literature. Interestingly, it’s also priced in Mexican pesos, and contains several nearly canonical essays of contemporary translation theory and practice, by noted translators like Eliot Weinberger and Kent Johnson, in Spanish only. It’s exciting to see a magazine engaged in true dialogue between literary communities, even if slightly delayed, and I think that Mandorla‘s approach certainly limits the exoticism any literature might be prone to project onto another.