A Digital Archive of Modernist Magazines (1890 to 1922): Browse the Literary Magazines Where Modernism Began

The sto­ry of lit­er­ary mod­ernism in the Eng­lish-speak­ing world is most often told through a small col­lec­tion of Great Works of Art. These poems and nov­els appeared sud­den­ly after the shock and car­nage of World War I, as Euro­peans and Amer­i­cans faced the psy­cho­log­i­cal after­math of mech­a­nized mod­ern com­bat and its sense­less capac­i­ty for mass destruc­tion. T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land sur­veyed the wreck­age of Euro­pean cul­ture and tra­di­tion, James Joyce’s Ulysses showed us his­to­ry as a “night­mare” from which its pro­tag­o­nist is “try­ing to awake,” Vir­ginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room showed the mod­ern self as noth­ing more than a col­lec­tion of mem­o­ries and per­cep­tions, emp­tied of sol­id exis­tence….

These so-called “high mod­ernist” works all appeared in 1922, when “most schol­ars con­sid­er mod­ernism to be ful­ly fledged.” So writes the Mod­ernist Jour­nals Project (MJP), a joint effort by Brown Uni­ver­si­ty and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Tul­sa, with a num­ber of grants and awards from local sources and the Nation­al Endow­ment for the Human­i­ties.

The project start­ed small in 1996 and has since bloomed into a major resource for schol­ars and read­ers. As the MJP’s mot­to has it, mod­ernism began not with the major works that have come to define it most; “mod­ernism began in the mag­a­zines,” small pub­li­ca­tions with lim­it­ed read­er­ships that often piqued lit­tle inter­est out­side their com­mu­ni­ties.

In many of these mag­a­zines, such as Har­ri­et Monroe’s Poet­ry—still around today—we can see bridges between Vic­to­ri­an and mod­ernist poet­ry. The first issue of Poet­ry from 1912 (top), for exam­ple, fea­tures famous Vic­to­ri­an poet William Vaugh­an Moody next to emerg­ing lit­er­ary dynamo Ezra Pound, who edit­ed Eliot’s The Waste Land ten years lat­er. Although the expo­nents of mod­ernism are often divorced from a polit­i­cal con­text, many mod­ernist writ­ers appeared ear­ly in “lit­tle mag­a­zines” like The Mass­es, fur­ther up, “per­haps the most vibrant and inno­v­a­tive mag­a­zine of its day.”

Found­ed in 1911 as an illus­trat­ed social­ist month­ly, The Mass­es’ pol­i­cy was “to do as it Pleas­es and Con­cil­i­ate Nobody, not even its Read­ers.” The mag­a­zine pub­lished Carl Sand­burg, Louis Unter­mey­er, Amy Low­ell, Upton Sin­clair, and Sher­wood Ander­son, among many oth­ers. But mod­ernism took root on var­ied ter­rain, such that at the same time as The Mass­es rep­re­sent­ed major lit­er­ary change, so too did The Smart Set, found­ed in 1900 “as a mag­a­zine for and about New York’s social elite.” This mag­a­zine soon “evolved into some­thing much more important—an expres­sion of pop­u­lar mod­ernism,” pub­lish­ing F. Scott Fitzger­ald, Joseph Con­rad, James Joyce and oth­ers.

The edi­tor­ship in 1913 of Willard Hunt­ing­ton Wright “estab­lished The Smart Set’s high lit­er­ary cre­den­tials” with fig­ures like Pound and W.B. Yeats. Wright “would up near­ly bank­rupt­ing the jour­nal” before H.L. Menck­en and George Jean Nathan took over the fol­low­ing year. Next to The Smart Set in con­tem­po­rary impor­tance are mag­a­zines like The Ego­ist, which grew out of an ear­li­er short-lived “week­ly fem­i­nist review,” The Free­woman.

Begun in 1913 as The New Free­woman by Free­woman edi­tor Dora Mars­den, and lat­er edit­ed by Har­ri­et Weaver, The Ego­ist is only one exam­ple of the cru­cial impor­tance female edi­tors and writ­ers had in bring­ing lit­er­ary mod­ernism to fruition. The Ego­ist even­tu­al­ly took on Eliot as its lit­er­ary edi­tor and pub­lished his sem­i­nal essay “Tra­di­tion and the Indi­vid­ual Tal­ent.”

Oth­er pub­li­ca­tions crit­i­cal to the growth of mod­ernist lit­er­a­ture were The Lit­tle Review, Des Imag­istes—a series of antholo­gies orga­nized and edit­ed by Pound—and the W.E.B. Du Bois-edit­ed The Cri­sis, the NAACP’s offi­cial jour­nal, which pub­lished work from Jessie Faucet, Charles Ches­nutt, Coun­tee Cullen, Langston Hugh­es, James Wel­don John­son, Jean Toomer, and many oth­er fig­ures cen­tral to the Harlem Renais­sance. You’ll find dozens of issues of these and many oth­er mod­ernist jour­nals from the peri­od, rep­re­sent­ed as scanned images and PDFs at the Mod­ernist Jour­nals Project. At the MJP home­page, you also find biogra­phies of the authors and artists who appear in these jour­nals’ pages, as well as book excerpts and essays about the peri­od of the “lit­tle mag­a­zines,” when the mod­ernists who became famous in the twen­ties, and house­hold names decades lat­er, dis­cov­ered new forms and cre­at­ed new lit­er­ary com­mu­ni­ties.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Exten­sive Archive of Avant-Garde & Mod­ernist Mag­a­zines (1890–1939) Now Avail­able Online

Down­load Influ­en­tial Avant-Garde Mag­a­zines from the Ear­ly 20th Cen­tu­ry: Dadaism, Sur­re­al­ism, Futur­ism & More

Down­load 336 Issues of the Avant-Garde Mag­a­zine The Storm (1910–1932), Fea­tur­ing the Work of Kandin­sky, Klee, Moholy-Nagy & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Bill W. says:

    Noticed Carl Sand­burg’s name on a list­ing above. Can some­one here explain why he’s been purged in recent decades from the lit­er­ary canon? At one time, you could find his writ­ings EVERYWHERE…now, not-so-much.

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