August 8, 2008KR BlogUncategorized

My Best of KR Vote: Civilwarland

In his post last week, Kenyon Review managing editor Tyler Meier noted that the KR archive is now available on JSTOR–and so we can now do Boolean searches to find stories by Flannery O’Connor, poems by John Ashberry, essays by Lewis Hyde. My first response: Whoo-hoo! My second: the Kenyon Review frequently touts having published Flannery, Ha Jin, Delmore Schwartz. But I’d like to reclaim, in my view, the most important major-journal literary debut in the recent history of the Kenyon Review:

George Saunders. In the fall of 1992, the Kenyon Review published Saunders’ “Civilwarland in Bad Decline.”

Civilwarland

By the time the title story of Saunders’ first book was published in the KR he’d already had his first story accepted by the New Yorker; it was noted in his bio in that issue. Now, I’m not going to say that George Saunders is the most influential short story writer of the past decade-plus. I’m not going to proclaim him the most emulated story writer of that period– the most emulated story writer since Raymond Carver. I’m not going to argue against it, either. And the fact that the Kenyon Review first published one of the most forward-thinking, most successfully experimental, freshest voices of a generation: Well, I’m not going to force that on you, either. You’ll just have to go back to Saunders’ first collection– incidentally, it ended up being called Civilwarland in Bad Decline— to prove it to yourself.

That, or as Mr. Meier has mentioned, you could just search for it on JSTOR.