Bookforum, a literary criticism magazine that closed in December to great uproar in the literary world, will be back in print in August with a new publishing partner: The Nation.
Bookforum’s relaunch, announced on Thursday, marks a return to form, said Bhaskar Sunkara, president of The Nation, who initiated talks in the spring. Bookforum will remain a quarterly print publication with the same branding and aesthetic, helmed by the staff at the time of its closure, he added. Longtime contributors have signed on to write for the relaunch issue.
“I always knew that it was a fairly unique outlet, and one that paid attention to a lot of contemporary trends and competing publications in a way that older literary publications didn’t,” said Sunkara, who said he started reading Bookforum in college, around the time he founded Jacobin magazine. “The economics of a relaunch seemed feasible, especially if it was supported by the infrastructure of an existing publication.”
The Bookforum team said they are confident that The Nation is the right partner. “They know how to run magazines,” Michael Miller, Bookforum’s editor in chief, said. “Bhaskar himself has worked on a number of magazines, and The Nation has been around since 1865.”
Bookforum has long been known as a place where emerging talent is given the latitude to develop their voices. “I really love pieces where someone’s figuring something out, and the reader gets to go along for the ride,” Miller said. Notable critics who have contributed to Bookforum include Parul Sehgal, a former Times critic now with The New Yorker, and Andrea Long Chu of New York Magazine, who won this year’s Pulitzer Prize in Criticism.
News of Bookforum’s closure came days after its sister publication, Artforum, was acquired by Penske Media Corporation.
The main difference between the old and new Bookforum will be its revenue model, Sunkara said. The magazine launched in 1994 as a quarterly supplement to Artforum. The new Bookforum will still count on ad sales as part of the business model, Sunkara said, but it “will have to develop a much larger direct subscription base.”
Sunkara dismissed the idea that print magazines — particularly niche literary ones — are not profitable.
“We need to stubbornly try to make these institutions sustainable on their own,” he said. “It’s somewhat defeatist to just say that these entities can’t be profitable, or that in a country of 330 million people — and in a much bigger language market — you can’t find enough people to sustainably produce a quarterly print magazine.”
Bookforum will remain editorially independent from The Nation, which itself publishes robust literary coverage, and has been known to commission literary writers to cover “the politics of the day,” said Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation’s editorial director and publisher. Walter Mosley and Tony Kushner sit on its editorial advisory board.
“The Nation is an intensely political publication that also does an excellent job covering books and arts,” Sunkara said, “whereas Bookforum is obviously a literary publication with writers and editors who have a sense of political commitment.”
The news of Bookforum’s closure led thousands of readers to bemoan the loss. The relaunch, Sunkara said, marks “a second chance for all of us.”