Keith Gessen is editor-in-chief of n+1, a twice-yearly magazine of literature, politics, and culture based in New York City.
Gessen graduated from Harvard College and earned his MFA in Creative Writing from Syracuse University in 2004. Gessen, who was born in Russia, has written about Russia for The Atlantic and the New York Review of Books. Gessen has also written about books for magazines including Dissent, Slate, and New York, where he was the regular book critic.
His first novel, All the Sad Young Literary Men, was published in April 2008.
Question: What is n+1?
Keith Gessen: n+1 is a literary magazine. It comes out twice a year, although we’re often a little bit late with it. It’s in the tradition of the Partisan Review, also the Russian thick journals, like Novyi mir. It publishes essays, polemical essays, and it publishes fiction. And the idea of it- and it also publishes a piece at the beginning which is authored collectively by the editors, called The Intellectual Scene, which tries to look around us and see what are some of the developments that are new in The Intellectual Scene, as we call it, with magazines, with readings, with idea- with the idea of reading. So these are things that are related to literature, mostly. And we’re trying to figure out what’s going on, what’s happening, what’s new.
Most of all, the magazine is devoted to understanding contemporary life, so when we were looking around, when we were getting out of school in the ‘90s, there were actually a number of these magazines. There was The Baffler, there was Hermenaut- The Baffler was a lot about labor politics, but also about the culture industry. Hermenaut tried to use philosophy to understand pop culture, and wrote a lot about movies and music. Lingua Franca wrote about- in a popular way- about what was going on in the academy. In 2000/2001, all these things collapsed. They all disappeared. So we were sitting around, and what we had was a lot of old magazines that were still doing a good job, but mostly they were interested in dead authors, or you know, not necessarily Flaubert but say, James Agee, you know, a great writer- Dwight Macdonald, a great writer, and yet, we’ve had enough about those guys, or there are definitely forums for writing about them. And in fact, I write about them. But we wanted to make a commitment to finding the people in our own time that we wanted to read and think about. And, similarly, we wanted to treat contemporary phenomenon like, you know, contemporary everyday life, meaning exercise, eating, the cubicle- we had a great essay on the cubicle- things that you see every day and think about them and ask what’s wrong with those things.
Why do we do these things? Why do we sit in cubicles? Why do we go to the gym? You know, how did this happen? And where is it taking us? And so the essays in the magazine are all highly argumentative, and they’re highly critical of what’s going on in America.