It seems like nowadays, every single literary blog has a ranking of literary journals, often interconnected somehow with Pushcart Prizes or O. Henry Prizes or Best American Stories 20##. And while I can both understand + even appreciate those metrics, I don't think prizes tell the whole story, for like several reasons:
1. It's impossible for the above prizes to have objective judges
since art + artistic merit is intrinsically subjective by nature. The proof of this is the way one novel is rejected by 200 agents + then passionately embraced by the next, only to get published + becomes a NYT bestseller, or the way one short story is rejected 40 times by 40 journals, only to finally get published in a tiny lit journal that ends up winning one of these above prizes for nominating that story. Either there was some cosmic psychic shift that took place that changed everyone's minds or that story that had been rejected by 40 journals was probably already kinda awesome, so how could 40 readers fail to see that? Or conversely, maybe that story really did
suck, but then how could a group of tough editors elect it to one of the highest prizes in literary fiction? Either way, we have to agree that objectivity is probably pointless + probably impossible for evaluating art. So let's acknowledge that some of the stories that win prizes are simply fucking awesome + others are, well, not as good as your shit.
2. I could be wrong about this, but I have a strong feeling that each prize has its own filter bias
that separates stories into yes + no camps, almost unconsciously. By that, I mean that readers/editors for Best American Stories, for example, are reading the New Yorker
with the assumption
that they'll find something that will win another prize whereas they probably read Santa Monica Review
not actually knowing if they'll find anything there or not, which is a damn shame let me tell you. Ditto with the Pushcart et al. I'm sure the readers + editors of the Pushcart Prize read Agni + Ploughshares + Prairie Schooner + the New England Review + Tin House
with the expectation that they'll find something worthwhile. But with the other journals, I'm sure those readers have to be convinced first, which means stories outside of the literary Parthenon can't simply be as good as stories in the New Yorker,
they would have to be actually better
in many ways to stand out + meet that burden of proof. In other words, readers for prizes are looking for new prize winners in a small list of journals, whereas they're reading other journals skeptically, trying to find stories that are worthy of their prize in the first place. And I'd argue that simple paradigmatic difference of reading totally prejudices their reading.
Again, this isn't to say that the pieces included in those anthologies aren't awesome, because honestly, I've read quite a few of them + many times, they're as awesome as advertised. But sometimes, you wonder if stories get selected in part because the author is already well known, thereby proving how smart the editors are. I mean, they must
be smart because they picked yet another story by this famous author who has published a shitload of books + who has a first-choice clause with the New Yorker,
so they must be awesome writers. Of course, they really are sometimes. But how does anyone
funnel 3,000 stories into a goddamn 12-story anthology? I don't have a fucking clue, but I can see the temptation to include writers who have already proven themselves because the literary establishment has already decided how talented they are. But I digress.
So, here are my own rankings of literary journals with the following caveats:
1. These rankings are totally
subjective, but at least I can admit it.
2. My only methodology is answering this question: Have I read a short story/essay in this journal that I loved? How often did that happen, holistically, speaking? In other words, this ranking privileges fiction because that's what I do. I can envision an entirely separate ranking for other genres, I'm just not qualified enough to do so
3. They're not actually rankings. In fact, I'm going to list them randomly in order to deprivilege the journals that are listed earlier in the list
4. This list is intentionally incomplete. I'm not comfortable including journals I haven't read, but I encourage all of you to make our own "ranking" that fits your own personal experience if you have a blog, or a friend who can't talk back
Here they are:
My 2012 "Ranking" of Literary Journals
New Yorker (they don't need a link)
(okay, just for poetry, but they do
publish some great shit)
Yomama's Literary Journal Okay, I just made that last one up to see if you were paying attention.