The Los Angeles Review of Books was conceived more than a decade ago during a dark period for the print literary ecosystem.
Tom Lutz, a writer and professor of creative writing at UC Riverside who began his career as a critic, was dismayed by the domino collapse of newspaper book reviews across the nation — robust, separate sections that had introduced him to literary culture back when he was a short-order cook and part-time student in Dubuque, Iowa. “What a shame,” he thought, “that future generations wouldn’t have that kind of access, and that authors wouldn’t have that kind of exposure.”
He decided to do something about it; he founded the LARB — a mostly online forum for critics and authors, both established and emerging, to sprawl and build out ideas — and secured funding from Hollywood players ranging from a Disney family member to “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner.
Ten years later, the mainstream media landscape has in many ways continued to wither as local papers fold at an accelerating pace and only one big. standalone newspaper book review survives in the U.S. At the same time, an undergrowth of journals and websites has begun to mature, exposed to sunlight that once shone only on the media sequoias. And the LARB, albeit still a scrappy upstart in comparison with namesakes in New York and London, is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a sense of pride and even vindication.
Tom Lutz launched the Los Angele Review of Books in 2011 as newspaper book reviews were shrinking.
(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)
On Thursday evening, the multimedia organization — which oversees the online journal as well as “LARB Radio Hour,” the Publishing Workshop and numerous events — marked the milestone with a virtual birthday party hosted by Executive Director Irene Yoon and Editor in Chief Boris Dralyuk. Prominent authors including Margaret Atwood, Steph Cha, Victoria Chang, Dean Rader and Lynne Thompson offered readings and toasts.
The celebration was also a launch party for the anthology issue of Quarterly Journal, LARB’s Pushcart Prize-nominated print edition.
A self-described “cockeyed optimist,” Lutz admitted he underestimated the volume of work required to launch the publication — not to mention the costs of doing so, both financial and psychological.
“Some people scoffed in the New York publishing establishment, literally scoffed,” he said, “and we were energized by that kind of provinciality.”
And yet he also underestimated its potential. Inside his first makeshift office in his Silver Lake home, Lutz never envisioned it would become the cultural force that it has.
“We had hundreds of thousands of readers almost immediately,” he said in an email. “And it never occurred to me that almost 40% of our readers would live overseas or that we would approach and even surpass the readership of legacy publications.”
Looking back over the past decade, “I am grateful to have had the chance to help build something that has, through the efforts of many, many people, become such a vital force in the world of books,” Lutz said. “Books, after all, saved my life, and I am happy to have had a chance to say thank you in this way.”