Students and Alumni Launch Lit Mag Ugarte
On Easter afternoon, around the corner from the New School, four students sat sipping beer and waiting for the fifth member of their group to arrive. Their conversation flowed fluidly from witty banter to sports commentary to the purpose of their meeting: to discuss the launch of their start-up literary journal, Ugarte.
The first issue of Ugarte will be released online and, for this issue only, in print on May 9. It will include critical essays and interviews with writers whom its editors find innovative and under-appreciated. It also features original translations of contemporary fiction and nonfiction from Denmark and El Salvador.
The editors who sat at City Tavern that Sunday — Ben Clague, James Angelos Jr., Julio Daniel Quintanilla and Morten Høi Jensen — were joined soon after by their fifth member, Alyssa Reeder, the only female on the editorial board and the group’s clear ringleader. The five met in the fall of 2010 in a class at Lang on the Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño taught by Siddhartha Deb, a literary critic and faculty member at Lang. Shortly after the class ended, they decided to start a literary review.
Publications like Ugarte — independent, young and without a budget — face a great risk of failing quickly or being abandoned over time. But for Ugarte’s founders, the journal’s ultimate fame is less important than its fruition. Ugarte is an experiment in literary criticism, for both its editors and everyone involved.
“[Founding a publication] is something a lot of students talk about doing and want to do,” Jensen said. “But it isn’t done enough. We thought, ‘What the hell, we’ll try this out,’ and we managed to put something together. We are very proud of that.”
Ugarte also has the advantage of being supported by faculty at Lang. Deb, the professor whose class prompted the journal, suggested to the university that its editors read at a Lang@25 event alongside many distinguished writers in Lang faculty.
“The really nice thing about getting to do this at Lang is that your professors are often practitioners in their fields rather then just academics,” said Clague. “The connections afforded to us are different then what might normally be available to other young people starting a journal.”
This first issue of Ugarte will contain essays and reviews written by the editors, as well as interviews with Lang professor and founder of n+1, Mark Greif; Horacil Castellanos Moya, a Salvadorian novelist, and Barbara Epler, the editor-in-chief of New Directions, the publisher of Roberto Bolaño.
The issue will also feature original translations of work that has never before been published in English, by Jensen and Quintanilla.
“One of the things that we all share [at Ugarte] is the importance of not isolating yourself in English [when reading],” Quintanilla said.
Ugarte’s editors also share a discontentment with the widespread recognition of writers like Jonathan Franzen, Stieg Larsson and Jonathon Safran Foer. Jensen said they felt disenchanted by the polite, polished fiction that many major publications like The New Yorker and Harper’s Magazine give their attention to.
“We would love to feel that we are combating the establishment, but we are nobodies,” Jensen said. “This issue is not as combative as we thought it would be, but it’s something that is still very much on our minds. This is something that we will keep tapping into.”