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Interview with The Scofield

The Scofield

David Burr Gerrard talks to Tyler Malone, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Scofield, a new literary magazine out of the US, before the release of issue two on Kay Boyle & Love.


3:AM Magazine: What is The Scofield?

Tyler Malone: The Scofield is the Ian Malcolm of lit mags, and it suffers from that Jurassic Park protagonist’s “deplorable excess of personality.” It’s a quarterly literary journal available as a free PDF download from our site. Though we are an “online magazine,” in that our issues are available online rather than in print (at least for now), we’re trying to move away from the more blog-oriented daily content of most current lit mags and go for the classic approach of 1920s journals like The Dial. Each issue is a curated bricolage of art, literature, and criticism which focuses on a spotlighted author and an explored theme (some concept the writer wrestled with throughout his or her career). These two subjects—author and theme—act as the twin stars that the issue’s content orbits around. We published our first issue a couple months ago on David Markson & Solitude. We are about to release our second issue on Kay Boyle & Love.

In the first issue’s letter from the editor, I wrote, “We want to create a place for dialogue, for nuance, for ambiguity, for negative capability, where various voices can come together in harmony and in cacophony. We aren’t looking to give you answers, but we hope to echo your questions, and to open up and out the world. Each issue will be an ordered chaos or a chaotic order. Each issue will hopefully work as some sort of patchwork quilt, made of various fabrics, and, most importantly, fraying a bit at the edges.”

3:AM: Why did you start this magazine?

TM: I’ve had this idea in my head for more than ten years. Back when I was an undergrad at NYU, I used to plot and plan the thing. At that time, there weren’t nearly as many lit mags, of course. Most lit mags then focused on either publishing reviews, interviews, and essays, or publishing fiction and poetry. I still think it’s very bifurcated in that way, but maybe less so now. It frustrated me that so few places published both together. When you go back to the classic Modernist lit mags, these things always lived in concert with one another. For me there’s no separation of the two.

It’s been a long gestating project, but what really got the journal in motion was Scott Cheshire and Dustin Illingworth telling me to either make it or shut up about it. They loved the idea about harkening back to a bygone era while also making it look toward the future, but they were sick of hearing me wax poetic about it rather than putting in the hours to just make the thing. They said, independently of one another, because at the time they didn’t know each other, “Make it, and I’ll help, but just make it.” So I did. And they did.

3:AM: How did you go about assembling your team, both your editors and writers? And how has that process evolved since the first issue?

TM: Well, the masthead started with that Field of Dreams moment of Scott and Dustin saying that if I build it, they will come. So it started with us three, and then it’s just been a process of trying to diversify the masthead with interesting and talented writers and editors. For our first issue, of course, the masthead was mostly just friends who volunteered to help. With that inaugural David Markson & Solitude Issue to point people to now, it’s much easier to get people involved. I no longer have to give impassioned speeches, I can just point them to the link and see if they want to be a part of what we’re doing. That said, it’s still mostly through people coming to us and saying, “What can I do to help?” That’s what Matthew Specktor did. He’s this pretty big writer who was a Founding Editor of the LA Review of Books, and yet he came to me and said, “I love what you’re doing. How can I help?” He’s now one of our two Editors-at-Large. The other is the great Porochista Khakpour, who likewise was a big supporter of ours from the beginning.

3:AM: What are your thoughts on the literary internet as it has shaped up over the past several years?

TM: It can be overwhelming and it can distract you from your actual writing, but I still love it. Just the other day, during #BannedBooksWeek, I thought it’d be fun to make some dumb puns fusing band names with book titles and hashtag it #BandBooksWeek. I thought we’d get some of our friends to retweet some stuff and that maybe that would help us gain some new followers for The Scofield during the downtime between our first and second issues. (This is the extent of my ‘marketing strategy’: come up with silly things that are fun that might gain us new readers.) Literary twitter took to the hashtag immediately. By the time I tweeted out, “A Portrait of the Artist Formerly Known as Prince as a Young Man #BandBooksWeek,” the hashtag was already beginning to trend. An hour later, Jarry Lee from Buzzfeed Books contacted me to confirm I started the hashtag because she was going to do a listicle of some of the best tweets. That’s sort of amazing. In the end, of course, this stuff’s ephemeral, but what isn’t? Writing is a tough job that you do alone most of the time. There are very few backpats and congratulations about it in the real world, so having this community online is nice. It makes us weird souls who put pen to paper feel less alone.

One thing I got a lot of when I mentioned I was thinking of starting The Scofield is the question, “Why?” There are too many lit mags out there, people say. I disagree. I mean, there are a lot, certainly, and it can be overwhelming at times to keep up with it if you’re a person who wants to stay in the know with what’s happening in literature now and not just become a hermit obsessed with writers of the twenties (which I am sometimes tempted to become). But I would expand Steinbeck’s line, “I guess there are never enough books” to “I guess there is never enough stuff to read.” Because even though there’s always too much to read—too much is also never enough. I’d rather make Sophie’s choice decisions on what book, what journal, what essay, what story I’m going to read today instead of feeling like I have nothing to move on to next.

3:AM: What magazines have inspired you? Do you see yourself as carrying on a tradition, or as correcting one?

TM: Well, The Dial, for one. There’s no greater journal on earth. Go to the New York Public Library and read the microfilm of its issues. Nothing compares. E. E. Cummings was first published there. T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland was first published in America there. Most of the artists of the twenties that you can name off the top of your head, and many more you couldn’t, were published in The Dial: James Joyce, William Carlos Williams, Pablo Picasso, Djuna Barnes, Sherwood Anderson, Bertrand Russell, Kahlil Gibran, Edvard Munch, Ezra Pound, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jean Toomer, Thomas Mann, George Santayana, Yone Noguchi, Mina Loy, Jean Cocteau, Marianne Moore, John Dos Passos, W. B. Yeats, D. H. Lawrence, Evelyn Scott, Conrad Aiken, Wyndham Lewis, etc. We took our name from The Dial’s Publisher and Editor, Scofield Thayer, in tribute to this near-perfect publication. The Criterion, founded by T. S. Eliot on the other side of the Atlantic, was equally great. That era had a whole slew of these kind of phenomenal lit journals: The Egoist, The English Review, The Little Review, which was the publication that serialized Ulysses.

Not all of our touchstones are stuck in that period. Lapham’s Quarterly is certainly an inspiration in its ability to corral numerous voices throughout history into an issue on a single theme, which was why we had an interview with Lewis Lapham in our first issue. It was serendipitous that he also loved Markson. Mostly we just wanted him in there because he and his magazine are foundational for us. Then there’s Dalkey’s Review of Contemporary Fiction, which often focuses its issues on underrated writers. In fact, they did a Markson issue too. It was a Barth/Markson issue, back before the Notecard Quartet, in the early nineties. Steven Moore, who I interviewed for our first issue, was the Managing Editor of Review of Contemporary Fiction back when they did their Barth/Markson issue, and it was in that issue that Moore got a pre-Infinite Jest David Foster Wallace to write the essay on Markson which is now the afterword in the newer editions of Wittgenstein’s Mistress.

In a way, we want to be the lovechild of a ménage à trois between the journals of the twenties, Lapham’s Quarterly, and Review of Contemporary Fiction. But I think we’d be the rebellious child—the one that doesn’t grow up to be its parents, that doesn’t take over the family business, that runs away from home and makes mistakes.

3:AM: How are you funding this? How do you plan/hope to fund it in the future?

TM: Well, so far it’s been coming out of pocket. It’s a passion project for me and for the others involved. We do hope to at some point in the near future figure out funding so that a) we can pay our contributors, b) we can make print issues in addition to the PDF downloads, and c) we don’t lose money on the venture. Our main focus at the start was to create some undeniably great issues that would get people’s heads to turn, and then we planned to figure out the rest of it later, because what’s the point of figuring out the nuts and bolts if you don’t have something worth people’s time in the first place. But now that our first issue is out there and the response has been above and beyond all our expectations, we’ve started to discuss the practical side of maintaining a lit mag and making it last. We obviously want to ensure The Scofield stays afloat by getting it to be self-sustaining. If anyone out there is interested in helping us figure this stuff out, we’d love to hear from you.

3:AM: What’s the process of selecting the subject of each issue?

TM: Before we had a whole team involved, I made a list of potential issues. We’re a quarterly, so a list of four years of spotlighted authors is only a list of sixteen writers. My initial list of people I’d want to do issues on could have sustained us until about 2036. Then, I whittled it down, and with the help of Scott and Dustin, got a basic picture of what the first year or two might look like. It’s not set in stone though, and now that we have a larger team, I love hearing their suggestions. Their suggestions, as well as suggestions from people outside of the magazine, do change who we feature and when we feature them. For example, originally our second issue wasn’t going to be on Kay Boyle. She was on my original mega-list, but she wasn’t going to be one of our first featured. Then, when we asked Twitter about suggestions for our second issue, someone came back with Kay Boyle, and that started a conversation. Same with Dambudzo Marechera (spotlighted author of our third issue). It comes out of listening to the suggestions of others in addition to doing research yourself.

There are only a few criteria that each author needs to fulfill in order to be considered for our spotlight: 1) They need to be underrated in some sense of the word, but being underrated is relative, of course. We go back and forth constantly on whether some author is ‘too big’ for us to do. That said, there are a bunch of famous names that we obviously won’t be touching, like the Hemingways and the Joyces and the Woolfs and the Baldwins and the DeLillos and the Borgeses. All great, but hard to argue they’re underrated and in need of our spotlight. 2) They need to have enough work that we can build an issue around them. We were thinking about doing an issue on Fran Ross, for example, but it’s quite difficult when the author really only has one thing to work off of, even if it is stellar, like Oreo. She did do a little bit of journalism and wrote comedy for Richard Pryor, but there’s really not enough stuff to build an entire issue around, which is a shame. 3) They need to have an estate or publisher willing to work with us. Early on we decided that we won’t do an issue on someone if we can’t republish some of their work in our pages. We don’t just want our issues to be a commentary on their writing, we want it to engage with their work and allow their words to exist side-by-side with other writers wrestling with both author and theme.

3:AM: Are there writers whom you love, but whom only you love? In other words, writers whom you could not build an issue around because there would not be enough fans of that writer to populate it?

TM: Well, part of the job is getting people to read our spotlighted author even if they haven’t yet. So, for example, in this upcoming Boyle issue, we reached out to a number of Boyle scholars, but also Scott and Dustin, my two Managing Editors, had never read her, so I got them to read some of her stuff. In fact, most of our masthead hadn’t read Boyle before we started doing the issue. Scott read her novel Monday Night and fell in love with it and wrote this wonderfully strange piece on the book. So we go to people who already love the author, but we also try to get people who haven’t read the author to read them and look at them with a fresh lens.

I have this yearly standing interview with the NYPL’s Paul Holdengräber. We’ve had three conversations (the third will appear in the second issue of The Scofield). In the course of our most recent conversation, he said something to me that really resonated when I asked him a similar question: “Yes. It has to [go beyond my tastes]. It really has to. I always say: It’s an informed subjectivity. That’s at the core of what I do. I don’t work with hundreds of people in committees, but I listen to people, and they have a huge influence on me. I listen to their tastes. My goal and my role is to absolutely not make it about only my tastes. In fact, it may be about actually challenging my tastes—and by challenging my tastes, I challenge myself, and by challenging myself, hopefully I challenge my audience.”

Scott has said that each issue is like a weird glimpse into my mind, and while on some level, I think that’s true, I also think The Scofield has to go beyond me and my loves. If each issue of The Scofield is just a look into Tyler Malone’s mind, then why would anyone read it? I’m not that fascinating. But I think as a sort of conductor, I do bring people together in a way as they play their various instruments. If I do it right, it’s a Phil Spector or Brian Wilson ‘Wall of Sound’ session, full of cacophony and harmony, building something beautiful and strange brick by brick, chord by chord, word by word, pet sound by pet sound.

3:AM: What writers will you be focusing on in future issues?

TM: Well, we have the Kay Boyle & Love Issue coming out soon. Then our third issue will be on Dambudzo Marechera & The Doppelgänger, which we’re working on now. The fourth issue, which will round out our first year, will be on Max Frisch & Identity. We haven’t made that fourth one public yet, but I guess it will be now. Then, after that, we have a number of other authors we’re looking at: Kobo Abe, Witold Gombrowicz, Hilda Hilst, Juan Carlos Onetti, Conrad Aiken, Djuna Barnes, Emil Cioran, Henry Dumas, Georges Bataille, Clarice Lispector, Katherine Mansfield, James Salter, etc.

3:AM: The first issue marked a culmination of your long engagement with David Markson; you spoke and corresponded with him personally, and you also created the blog Reading Markson Reading. Do you miss Markson now that the first issue of The Scofield is done, and, presumably, you won’t be engaging publicly with his work for some time?

TM: I miss David Markson constantly, as a writer and as a person. We did the first issue on Markson for the same reason I did the blog, to exorcise my demons about not having written him more. He wrote me back twice and I should have done what someone like poet Laura Sims did, and kept that conversation going rather than worrying about bugging him. If I was bugging him, he simply wouldn’t have written back. That said, the whole idea for The Scofield came about before my Markson obsession. So yes, I’ll miss Markson, but I have plenty of other obsessions: Aiken, Gombrowicz, Woolf, Joyce, Bowie, Prince, Keatsian negative capability, chaos, Jurassic Park, Mexican food… I’ll survive.

3:AM: Why are you so obsessed with Jurassic Park?

TM: Ha! I do talk about it a lot, don’t I? I don’t mean to, but I can’t help it. I suppose life…uh…finds a way. God, I’m embarrassed by that joke. But print it, I deserve a public shaming for that. The movie is one of my top three favorite films (along with Magnolia and Pierrot le Fou). I teach it to my Freshman Comp students. I think it’s about so many really great themes and that allows students to come up with compelling arguments for papers—like Hamlet, it asks the most important questions. Everyone knows it’s a film about chaos, with Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) as the film’s philosophical center. When I was a kid, I wanted to be Malcolm, and ever since chaos/order has always been my pet binary, but there’s also lots of other interesting stuff going on in the film.

Mainly, it’s a movie about fatherhood, about Dr. Allan Grant (Sam Neill) learning to become a father figure, learning to love. What are some of his first lines? He’s talking about how babies smell, how he wants nothing to do with kids, and he scares the shit out of that one boy with a raptor claw. Yet by the end, he’s the one who saves the two children, Lex and Tim, and as they fly off in the helicopter back to safety, where are the kids now? They’re asleep in his lap. It pans to Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), who has been the primary pusher of this attempt to open up Dr. Grant to the possibilities of love, and she gives him the look of, “Now you’re a father figure, and now I want to fuck you so bad.” It’s a film about the chaos of nature, definitely, but it also asks a more important question, namely: “What can we do in the face of this chaos?” I’m not sure it gives a clear answer, but it does seem to suggest something similar to E. M. Forester’s famous injunction: “Only connect!” I see Jurassic Park as a film about love, about relationships, about family, about connection. In fact, I think all the movies in the franchise essentially are about that, including the new one. How does Jurassic World end? With the following exchange: “So now what do we do?” “Probably stick together. For survival.” Love won’t necessarily save us from chaos, from destruction, but it will make it easier to face an indifferent world—together.

Which in a way is what The Scofield is about too, if it’s ‘about’ anything. We’re trying to connect various voices into some sort of loose “family.” Families don’t all agree, but they can usually sit around the dinner table with one another and discuss. I think of each of our issues as a dinner party I’m lucky enough to host, the guests an embarrassment of riches. We don’t all have one worldview or ideology. Instead, we’ve created a place where multiple, even opposing voices can coexist respectfully.

So now what do we do?

Probably stick together. For survival.

David Burr Gerrard

David Burr Gerrard is the author of the novel Short Century. His work has appeared in The Awl, GuernicaThe LA Review of BooksThe Barnes and Noble ReviewFull Stop, and other publications. He teaches fiction writing at Manhattanville College and the Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop.


Tyler Malone

Tyler Malone is a writer and professor of English. He is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Scofield. His writing has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Millions, Full Stop, The Offing, and elsewhere.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, November 5th, 2015.