Most Prestigious Literary Magazines

Many literary journals rest on their laurels. We base their prestige on the writers who once appeared in the pages, less on the quality of fiction they now publish. Good magazines can ossify. New magazines are formed by writers who feel shut out of what has become "the establishment." Writer Scotty Southwick once took the time to burn through the hype by looking at how well various magazines have done in the prize anthologies: Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Prize anthology and The O’Henry Awards. Maybe it is not the best way in which to judge a magazine, but how else can we "measure" a magazine’s relative prestige? I long hoped someone would update Scotty’s work, but this week I finally took it on myself to analyze 10 years of the BASS anthologies.

Most Appearances in BASS 1995-2004
New Yorker (44)
Ploughshares (18)
Atlantic Monthly (13)
Harper’s Magazine (10)
Story (10)
Tin House (6)
Esquire (5)
Missouri Review (5)
Antioch Review (4)
Triquarterly (4)
Zoetrope (4)

The names of the magazines that have been most successful in the BASS anthologies are not particularly surprising, given that they represent some long-standing institutions. The order surprises me somewhat. I did not know how superbly Ploughshares had outperformed glossies such as The Atlantic, Harper’s and Esquire. The New Yorker’s numbers are skewed by the fact that the guest editors
of the 2002 (Sue Miller) and 2004 (Lorrie Moore) anthologies each picked eight stories from the
magazine. The list also shows how journals, even respected journals, come and go. Relative newcomer Zoetrope has four appearances, while Story, with 10 appearances, is defunct. The Paris Review is notably absent in the list above.

Other journals with at least three appearances.

American Short Fiction
Georgia Review
New England Review
Ontario Review
Paris Review
Southern Review
Yale Review

The BASS selections are generally pulled from 100 stories from the past year nominated by series editor Katrina Kennison. Each year, a different guest editor makes the final selection of 20 or so stories that appear. A better analysis would look at that larger pool year on year to see how Kennison’s journal predilections have or have not changed. An even better analysis would take Pushcart and O’Henry into account as well.

See also: Most Prestigious Magazines II, a look at the O-Henry awards.

One response to “Most Prestigious Literary Magazines

  1. Nice analysis there, Wayne. I don’t know how long this all took you, but are there any plans on incorporating Pushcart and O’Henry into that mix? Or maybe you can get some others to join in and compare the tally.

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