AGNI was founded in 1972 at Antioch College by undergraduate Askold Melnyczuk, a then-aspiring (now accomplished) writer with his own vision of a vehicle for alternative news, visual arts, and literature. Melnyczuk was interested in creating a magazine that would feature a new generation of writers and visual artists.
Eric Hoffman, an associate editor at the time (now professor of radiology, medicine and biomedical engineering at University of Iowa), wrote to describe those days: “The first issue was printed on a printing press in the middle of the night with the two of us running it. Askold took the printing class just so that we could gain access to the press. We spent most of the time trying to back Askold’s hair out of the press after it was caught in the rollers. Later issues were printed by the Antioch Bookplate Company” (see photo, right). After Yellow Springs, Ohio, the magazine moved to northern New Jersey and then western Massachusetts before arriving, in the mid-1980s, at its current home in the College of Arts and Sciences at Boston University.
We see literature and the arts as part of a broad, ongoing cultural conversation that every society needs to remain vibrant and alive. Our writers and artists hold a mirror up to nature, mankind, the world; they courageously reflect their age, for better or worse; and their work provokes perceptions and thoughts that help us understand and respond to our age. Literature for literature’s sake is not what AGNI is about.
Aside from regular inclusion of its work in the annual Best American, O. Henry Prize, and Pushcart Prize anthologies, “[a]mong readers around the world, AGNI is known for publishing important new writers early in their careers,” as PEN American Center put it in 2001. Such authors include Jhumpa Lahiri (Pulitzer Prize, 2000, for Interpreter of Maladies; the title story appeared in AGNI 47 in 1998), Ha Jin (National Book Award, 1999; many of his early poems and stories appeared in AGNI and he was a Featured Poet in 1989), and Susanna Kaysen (Girl, Interrupted, first excerpted in AGNI in 1991), as well as Mark Doty, Glyn Maxwell, Sven Birkerts, and Olena Kalytiak Davis, whom we’ve printed alongside such luminaries as Seamus Heaney, Joyce Carol Oates, Derek Walcott, and many others.
AGNI has published more than seventy-nine issues in a history touching five decades. The magazine is one of the strongest voices of one of the most active writing communities in America, and we continue to focus on developing audiences for contemporary literature. We have held hundreds of readings (in Boston and nationwide) featuring such writers as Louise Glück, Lan Samantha Chang, and Robert Pinsky (see upcoming events on our homepage).
Another important aspect of AGNI’s editorial history and vision is its abiding interest in the important cultural questions that concern us all, both domestically and internationally. Most issues include work from multiple languages, and translations from Urdu, Dutch, Latin, German, Spanish, Hungarian, Ukrainian, Yiddish, Chinese, Turkish, Greek and Ancient Greek, Hebrew, Albanian, Old English, Polish, Italian, Slovenian, French, and Latvian have appeared in AGNI. We also continue to feature a variety of challenging topics, from features on Spirituality after Silicon Valley and Social Control and the Arts to George Packer’s “School on a Garbage Pile,” a profile of Haiti’s school systems, and Julia Lieblich’s “Pieces of Bone,” a story of torture in Guatemala.
Each issue includes at least forty writers/artists, with our print run now at 3,000. AGNI has paying subscribers in thirty-eight states and ten countries, is carried by over one hundred university and city libraries, and is distributed to independent and chain bookstores nationwide. Like our writers, our contributing editors span genres, genders, races, and international borders, such as Thomas Sayers Ellis (an African-American poet in Ohio), Oksana Zabuzhko (a female novelist in Ukraine), and Tom Sleigh (a white poet/translator in New York).
In our history, six AGNI writers have gone on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature: Seamus Heaney (the 1995 laureate), Derek Walcott (1992), Wisława Szymborska (1996), J. M. G. Le Clezio (2008), Tomas Tranströmer (2011), and Patrick Modiano (2014), whom AGNI was the first to publish in English. We’ve also published two other winners of the Nobel during their lifetimes, after they’d won the prize: Odysseas Elytis (1979) and Joseph Brodsky (1987).
History of the AGNI Monkey
The “flying monkey,” drawn by a long-ago intern, has been AGNI’s logo since 1994 (AGNI 40). In 2003 he was reborn as the “monkey demon” from Richard Fariña’s 1966 novel Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me:
“SHAZAM!” He was up on the table, making a noise like a thunderclap, then with a bound into the middle of the dining room, pointing a finger at Harold Wong. “Beware the monkey-demon, Wong.” Then to all the startled faces, their every expression chilled stiff, interrupted: “Lock your doors, gang. Bolt your bedroom windows. He may be the house mascot now, but in ten years, zoom, back to Peking, a commissar. Swoop . . .” He was out the door, flapping his wings like a bird trying to fly. . . .