Uncertain fate for Antioch Review
- Published: October 29, 2020
The Antioch Review is in limbo.
Founded in 1941 at Antioch College, the Review is one of the nation’s oldest continuously publishing literary magazines. Or it was.
The current and future status of the Review, which has a national and international reputation for literary excellence, is unclear to the magazine’s longtime editor — furloughed since April — and longtime production staff. Review staff members who among them have nearly 150 years of involvement with the magazine say they’re in the dark about the college’s plans for the Review. And they’re worried that the magazine might be permanently shuttered — a personal loss and a loss to literary culture.
“I think for it to just stop publication is pretty sad,” Jane Baker, who has served as the magazine’s production editor since 1975, said. Baker said she had not been informed of any changes with the magazine, but that publication has “just sort of stopped” over the past months.
Design editor David Battle voiced similar concerns, stating that there was “a lot of mystery around” the status of the Review, whose covers he has created since the 1970s.
Editor Bob Fogarty told the News that despite being furloughed by Antioch College, he remains the editor of the Review he’s built into a literary powerhouse since 1977. He is concerned about the Review’s current operation and future “as a literary magazine” — that is, a magazine of cultural relevance run and edited with high literary standards.
Fogarty said he has contacted the college numerous times since being furloughed in April, during which period he has also been laid up with serious health issues. He has yet to receive a response from the college to his queries about the Review’s future, he said.
“No one has told me anything about anything,” he stated.
Prompted by Review staff concerns, the News contacted Antioch College in recent days for information about the Review’s status. Interview requests with several senior administrators were declined, and the college did not respond to specific questions about aspects of the Review’s operations and the college’s plans for the magazine.
A statement provided to the News by college spokesperson Christine Reedy described the Review as being “on hiatus.”
The statement reads as follows: “After experiencing several years of substantial operating losses, with the additional financial challenges related to responding to COVID-19, the decision was made following the publication of the Winter 2020 issue of the Review, to place the publication on hiatus and furlough its staff as we explore options for the future of the Review. The Antioch Review remains on hiatus while a team of Antioch College faculty work on an updated business model.”
‘News to me’
But Fogarty said it was “news to me” that the Review was on hiatus. He also questioned the legitimacy of that status, pointing out that someone needs to communicate with authors regarding their manuscripts — in recent years, the Review has received about 5,000 submissions annually — and subscribers regarding their subscriptions to the magazine.
Until recently, that work may have been handled by the Review’s office manager, Cynthia Dunlevy, whose name and contact information still appear on the Review’s website. Dunlevy’s hours were reduced in April, and she was furloughed entirely from the college earlier this fall.
But Fogarty emphatically maintained that making and communicating judgments about authors’ manuscripts falls under the exclusive purview of the editor. And that is still him, according to Fogarty.
“I have to be maintained in that position and certain decisions have to go through me,” he said, summarizing his understanding of his furloughed-but-still-editor status.
The college did not answer a question from the News regarding who is the editor of the Review and who is currently handling its operations.
Echoing a common theme, one assistant editor who reads fiction manuscripts for the magazine on a volunteer basis, Joan Champie, told the News this week that the flow of manuscripts “just stopped” about six weeks ago. At that point, Dunlevy informed Champie that she had been furloughed as office manager.
“There may be a stack of manuscripts piling up,” Champie worried.
“It’s very frustrating as a volunteer to be involved, and then, poof — it’s gone,” she added. Champie has been reading fiction manuscripts for the Review for close to three years.
Whatever is being communicated, or not, to Review staff, public-facing signals about the Review’s status are mixed.
The Review’s website, which is part of the college’s website, does not indicate that the magazine has suspended publication. The website is somewhat out of date, identifying the “current issue” of the magazine, ordinarily a quarterly, as the Fall 2019 issue, titled “Attention.”
A subsequent issue — the Winter 2020 issue, titled “Death and So Forth” — saw delayed publication this summer. Fogarty said that issue has not been distributed through the Review’s usual channels, something he and the Review’s office manager — the magazine’s only other staff employee, now furloughed — would normally oversee.
Locally, such as at Tom’s Market, the Fall 2019 issue remains on newsstands as of early this week.
The Review’s altered status is also not reflected in information provided on the popular online literary marketplace Duotrope, which cites May 31, 2021, as the magazine’s next submission deadline.
But without an anticipated next publication date, and with the magazine’s overall status unclear, the Review is being prevented from interacting with authors — including many of the nation’s most celebrated — in a magazine’s customary manner, according to Fogarty.
“You can’t accept materials, you can’t give out contracts,” he said.
And that has led him to fear that the period of limbo will slide into permanent shuttered status for the Review. That would be a blow not just to those who have worked to keep the magazine alive and flourishing, somewhat improbably, for almost 80 years, but to Antioch College itself, according to Fogarty.
“What are they going to do with this magazine?” he asked. “The publication has a better reputation than anything at the college.”
‘The best words in the best order’
For decades, the Review has operated as a semi-autonomous unit of Antioch College, one of many literary magazines affiliated with colleges and universities. But the Review has had unusual longevity, and acclaim.
Literary magazines that outlive the 10-year mark are lucky, Fogarty noted in an editorial in the Fall 2019 issue. The Review has beat the odds by multiple decades, in large part because of Fogarty’s own efforts to put “the best words in the best order” — the magazine’s motto, which borrows Coleridge’s definition of poetry — by publishing some of the very “best” writers in the U.S. and abroad.
Contributors to the Review have garnered many of the nation’s top literary prizes, and the magazine itself has been honored four times as a finalist for the prestigious National Magazine Award. As editor, Fogarty has been recognized by PEN/American Center with a lifetime achievement award for magazine editing.
The Review’s importance to the college is underscored by the fact that it was among the assets purchased by the Antioch College Continuation Corporation from Antioch University in 2009. (The magazine continued to publish during the college’s closure.) Other assets included the campus itself and Glen Helen. The relaunched college purchased WYSO from the university at a later point, in 2013.
But now the Glen and WYSO have been spun out from Antioch — both were sold to community organizations — and the Review may also have an altered future.
Fogarty and others just don’t know what that is, and fear the worst — permanent closure.
“I’m afraid they’re going to kill it,” Fogarty said.
With Antioch’s blessing, he had previously explored transferring the Review to the University of Dayton, or UD. (Antioch Writers’ Workshop, a separate organization from the Review, made a similar move to UD in 2017, then closed in 2019.) But those talks fell through due to UD’s lack of funds, according to Fogarty.
While the Review has historical ties to the college, Fogarty argued that Antioch in recent years has fallen short of its financial and moral commitments to the magazine.
“A college is supposed to support culture,” he said.
Fogarty disputed the college’s claim in its statement to the News that the Review has recently experienced “substantial operating losses.” Rather, he said, the Review has suffered from recent declines in endowment income. That income “dropped to zero” this past year, while previously reaching as high as $55,000 annually, toward a yearly expense budget of around $200,000, according to Fogarty.
Auditors’ reports for Antioch College over most of the past decade list a permanent endowment for the Antioch Review in the amount of approximately $240,000. (Fogarty contends the endowment was previously much higher, as much as $750,000.) However, the Review endowment does not appear by name in the most recent audit, covering fiscal year 2019.
The college did not answer a News question regarding this change.
In addition to endowment income, the Review is supported by state and federal grants, subscriptions and fundraising efforts. A “Friends of the Antioch Review” donor list at the back of the Winter 2020 issue of the magazine credits approximately 150 individual and organizational donors, including many local names.
Keeping a literary magazine going is tough, Fogarty conceded — hence the longevity challenge faced by many such publications.
‘Cease and desist’
That’s one reason Fogarty gave his okay to his advisee Ben Zitsman, a 2020 graduate of the college, to set up a foundation to raise funds for the magazine.
Ohio Secretary of State filings show that Zitsman’s father, Howard Zitsman, served as agent to incorporate a nonprofit corporation called the Antioch Review Foundation on Aug. 1. Ben Zitsman, Fogarty and longtime Review advisory board member Gordon Lish are listed as the incorporators.
According to draft documents for the foundation shared by Zitsman with the News, the organization’s purpose “is to raise funds for the Antioch Review, disburse them, manage its budget, and act as employer to the staff of the Antioch Review.”
Those activities would effectively displace Antioch College in its current role, Zitsman openly acknowledged.
“I told Bob I think the Review needs some independence from Antioch,” Zitsman said, recalling a conversation from the spring.
The incorporation of the Antioch Review Foundation drew a swift response from Sharen Neuhardt, an Antioch trustee who in recent months has served the college as senior vice president of operations.
“No one other than the College has rights in the Antioch Review name and you should cease any use of that name,” she wrote in an email shared with the News by Zitsman.
The email also directs Zitsman to “immediately cease and desist any actions relating to the Review,” referencing prior conversations between Zitsman and college faculty about plans for the Review. Zitsman said he followed the letter’s direction.
“I ceased and desisted,” he said.
As part of his effort to establish the foundation, Zitsman also had previously contacted literary figures including poets Billy Collins and Ilya Kaminsky to solicit their participation as foundation editorial advisory board members. According to emails provided by Zitsman to the News, both authors assented.
Zitsman said in doing so he was acting in the capacity of the Review’s “managing editor,” a title Fogarty had given him. Fogarty confirmed this, explaining the title referred to Zitsman’s role in “promoting” the Review. Zitsman does not appear on the Review’s current masthead.
Another complication arose in September, when Review office manager Dunlevy initiated college disciplinary proceedings against Zitsman for several alleged violations, including misrepresenting his role in the Review. A disciplinary hearing took place on Oct. 15, and a decision was handed down on Oct. 23. The decision found Zitsman “not responsible” for violating any community standards, according to a copy of the decision Zitsman provided to the News.
The wording of the decision sheds light on the confused atmosphere surrounding the Review during recent months.
“[Y]ou were found not responsible for violating this standard [misrepresentation] both given the lack of clarity at the time surrounding the legitimacy of claims about the lines of authority concerning the Antioch Review, and given your subsequent actions once the Cease and Desist letter was received.”
Whether the “lines of authority” have any further clarity now is itself unclear. The Review’s future is in the hands of an “ad hoc committee,” according to Vice President of Academic Affairs Kevin McGruder, one of the senior administrators contacted by the News and a member of the committee. The group doesn’t have a single head, McGruder added, declining further comment.
After 43 years at the helm of the Review, Fogarty told the News he is ready to step down and is “not necessarily” interested in naming any individual as his successor.
Rather, he seeks what he sees as a simpler assurance — that the Review will persist as “a magazine that has quality, character and has a history,” and will be run in a manner consistent with that legacy.
“I want the college to indicate that it is willing to support the Antioch Review as a literary magazine,” he said.
It’s an indication he has yet to receive.