Uzoamaka Maduka has a theory: Counter to many people’s assumptions, young people do think. They read, write, argue, analyze, and debate. In fact, they are willing and able to contribute to the cultural discourse in society! Being part of the digital generation doesn’t mean their collective attention span is stretched by things more complex than LOLcats. They like books, art, and culture. Technology has just changed many of the ways information is disseminated, and thus how people absorb and receive it. But the information can still be thoughtful and well-written. All young people need is a chance, a forum to vocalize their ideas and opinions.
Maduka found herself saying this quite a bit (probably sans LOLcats), until one day, sitting on a New York City fire escape having this discussion yet again, she realized maybe she was the one who should provide that forum.
So, Maduka put together a literati team of creatives — Ben Marcus, Jeff Dolven, Dean Young, Stephanie LaCava, Alexandra Sage FC Mehta, and Shala Monroque — who could help her provide a space where 20- and 30-somethings could express their literary tastes. Together they created The American Reader, a monthly online and print journal exclusively dedicated to literature, and its concerns directed at 22- to 35-year-old readers. The website launched yesterday, the print publication will be available October 1.
The team’s goal is to provide a chronicle of literary discussion that provokes and inspires. In essence The American Reader is out to get people talking, or as Maduka says, “turn up the dial.” Although Maduka calls this goal “immodest,” I might argue it is better to refer to it as hopeful and, even, inspiring. Maduka is telling her peers that she believes not only that they have something to say, but that people should listen. Twenty- and 30-somethings aren’t just participating in literary conversations. Here, they’re leading the discourse.
So, what exactly is on the site? Yesterday’s launch featured the first of daily writings on literature and criticism. Read a letter from Anton Chekov to Maxim Gory, or from Allen Ginsberg to Lionel Trilling. Reflect on a comparison between China Miéville’s speech at the 2012 Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference and Clint Eastwood’s stand-up routine at the Republican National Convention. With October’s print issue comes new fiction and poetry, book reviews, essays, interviews, and a portfolio of literature from Russia. Not interested in Russian literature? That’s OK, you can check out Pakistani writings in November — each issue will have a translated section, providing an in-depth look at one country’s literary stalwarts.
If the initial intellectual offerings on the website are any sign, Maduka may accomplish her goal—to make waves in the socio-cultural scene of the younger set. But it’s also ambitious — in a world flooded with publications, how does one manage to stand out from all the rest? As part of their target audience I can’t help but cheer for The American Reader. I hope we can prove to Maduka that her faith in today’s younger generation is correct.