January 11, 2015KR BlogNewsletter

Take A New Look at KR!

covers_for_blog_1This month, we are delighted to present the first issue of a new volume year and with it the boldest revisions of design and frequency in the 75-year trajectory of the Kenyon Review. Even that last “the” has been plucked from its perch in our title. More on that later. But our makeover goes beyond our new look. KR will now appear every two months—six times a year—rather than the quarterly issues of many decades. All of this comes after two years of questions and debate and planning.

For a sense of historical context, you can see examples of KR’s design evolving from its first issue in 1939—with a stained-glass detail of Bishop Philander Chase astride his horse—and across three decades. The conceptual varieties are striking—even startling. Some were famous and influential in their time. Some less so.

After our transoms were shuttered for financial reasons in 1969, the Review’s “New Series” was launched to acclaim in 1979, thanks largely to the efforts of Ronald Sharp and Frederick Turner, its new editors. Even today, looking back at their early issues, I am astounded at the vitality and daring of the editorial vision. Here, you can see some of the covers of the three-and-a-half decades since.

The 21 years that I’ve occupied this chair have witnessed many regular (and sometimes irregular) leaps in design as well. This time, however, we’ve spent longer considering what the Kenyon Review has come to represent to the world of literature—the readers and writers, teachers and students and program participants—as well as its aspirations going forward. This represents more than establishing a new graphic identity. We hope to influence the ways people greet the Kenyon Review on its arrival—and how they read it.

covers_for_blog_2We have to face the fact that even well-educated, highly motivated people are reading differently today—of that there’s little doubt. We are all so very busy. Distractions flit ceaselessly about our ears and eyes, afflicting and assaulting our senses. Yes, we can take some refuge in the quiet power of print on paper, but it’s also true that many readers have all but abandoned that medium entirely. For them, of course, we offer the Kindle electronic version of this journal, as well as KROnline, but there are other lessons we have taken to heart.

Early on I shared these intuitions and concerns with Rick Landesberg, a gifted Pittsburgh designer who has played an important role in creating designs for the Kenyon Review over many years. As a first step, Rick traveled to central Ohio for discussions with KR staff and editors. He wanted to listen, to get a better sense of those things we were proud of and what we aspired to in the near future. The memo he crafted afterwards included an interesting matrix of questions and categories he’d raised in the conversations, with headings such as Who Are You? Who Needs to Know? Why Should They Care? and How Ought KR Be Perceived? Key-word responses from our staff to that last category were particularly interesting, initially articulating aspects of the journal we seek to preserve: Respected, Trusted, Enduring, Global, Elegant/Simple, Serious/Substantial, Worthwhile, Timeless (vs. Timely).

But responses also included an array of aspirations for a reinvigorated design to match our dynamic changes in KR’s content, its readers, and its writers: Vitality, Relevance to Younger Readers, Accessible + Inviting; Pleasurable; Imaginative; Fresh; New.

How might we pursue a design that was attractive and yet managed to convey some of these seemingly incompatible traits? How could KR appear both Elegant and Fresh? Respected and Accessible? As you can imagine, our conversations on the phone and by email were lively over the next many months. Just getting the balance of KENYONreview right as a “wordmark” on the cover has sparked truly lively debate.

All those efforts brought us to what our subscribers will hold in their hands this month. Our hope is that with fewer pages per issue and a fresh, new format, along with more frequent appearance, readers will be inclined to browse through when the magazine shows up in the mailbox, plunging into the wonderful stories, poems, and essays on offer. You and other readers around the country and the world will be judges of how well we have succeeded. (And I’ll be eager to hear your thoughts.)

Oh, and about the “the” that’s missing: traditionalists and copyeditors among our readers will recognize the centuries-old convention that only The Times, published in London, is owed that first capital T. Many years ago, just to be meddlesome and cheeky, I made the unilateral decision to typographically champion The Kenyon Review. Now, equally cheeky, we present you with the KENYONreview. Away we go.