There's something truly exciting about running across the very first issue of a new magazine, one you haven't heard a word about in advance, especially in these precarious times for all ventures that deal with the printed word. That happened recently to me during a visit to Barnes & Noble, where I stumbled upon 12th Street.

This new journal, we're told, is "published by the Riggio Honors Program: Writing and Democracy, of the undergraduate Writing Program at the New School, New York City, N.Y." A further acknowledgement on the second page thanks Leonard and Louise Riggio, "who made this unique and essential program possible, allowing us to learn new ways to read and write, and for providing us with a public voice."

The magazine's cover is filled with print only, as if to taunt the visual gods that seem to reign supreme these days, all of it rendered in different fonts and point sizes, some of them in black and others white, all of it set against a red backdrop. When you look more carefully, you realize that these sort of haphazardly arranged words and sentences are quotes from the material that appears inside the magazine and so provide something of a laid-back table of contents (even though there's a perfectly conventional one inside).

For example, right beneath the 12th Street banner come the words, in small black type, "The first three sentences of 'The innocent,' a story on page 9," followed, in much larger, much heavier white type by, "Hey. Psst. Is anyone there?" Some of this is very intriguing, and some of it is sort of precious.

Inside, the magazine is not only filled with stories, poems, interviews and nonfiction of all sorts, but there are also several statements of purpose relevant to what the magazine hopes to accomplish. First off, there's a quote from E.B. White, of New Yorker fame, which is a truly heartening sign: "In the days of my youth, in the days of my youth/I lay in West Twelfth Street, writhing with Truth."

Directly across from these words is a letter from the editor in chief, Adrián Jiménez. "The history of West 12th Street in New York City is self-evident. Located in the West Village, there are shadows on every block of those who have lived and worked here before. I have seen and held a copy of a literary journal called 12th Street, published in 1949, by the New School. This is our history. With this first issue, we continue the history of 12th Street, the place and the journal, while relying on the resources of the present.

"The staff, in creating a new legacy with our founding issue, discussed the goals of 12th Street at length. Our mission is to present literature that establishes a discourse on the artist as intellectual and explores the role of the writer in the world. We want to promote literature as an engine of democracy."

These are lofty goals, and readers will have to be the final judges in all this. Still, one can only wish such optimism well, especially since it so clearly flies in the face of current attitudes. That, in itself, takes a lot of courage.


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