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Oxford American (OA)

The Oxford American (OA) is a quarterly journal of Southern culture and literature. Housed at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) in Conway (Faulkner County), it publishes short fiction, poetry, and articles in a glossy format in the vein of Harper’s or the Atlantic Monthly.

The Oxford American is best known for its music issue, which focuses on often-overlooked Southern musicians and includes a CD of selected songs from these musicians. The Music Issue has been featured on National Public Radio many times and has won two National Magazine Awards for Best Single Topic Issue. OA has sporadic special issues with topics including Southern art and architecture and Southern film; recently, it has begun an annual Southern food issue.

Founded under editor Marc Smirnoff in Oxford, Mississippi, in 1992 as a monthly journal, the OA was been plagued for much of its life by financial troubles, although bestselling author John Grisham came on board as publisher early in its run. After issuing a plea to readers asking for more subscribers, the Oxford American suspended operations in 2002. In 2003, it moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County), where it published four issues before ceasing publication again. It finally settled at the University of Central Arkansas in the fall of 2004, with Smirnoff remaining as editor. The magazine became a nonprofit publication and switched to a quarterly format.

The OA refers to itself as “The Southern Magazine of Good Writing.” As its submission guidelines note, “The Oxford American will consider only manuscripts that are from and/or about the South.” Many well-known writers have been published in its pages, including Grisham, Barry Hanna, Steve Martin, Roy Blount Jr., Billy Collins, Charles Bukowski, and Susan Sontag. Pieces originally published in the OA have been featured in Best American Sports Writing, Stories from the South, Best American Short Stories Anthologies, and O’Henry Prize Stories. In 2002, Hill Street Press published an anthology, Best of the Oxford American: Ten Years from the Southern Magazine of Good Writing, which includes many of these award-winning pieces. In 2008, the University of Arkansas Press published The Oxford American Book of Great Music Writing.

Financial troubles hit again in 2009 when the Internal Revenue Service began pressing for back-taxes totaling $57,000. These taxes had gone unpaid due to a former office manager pretending to pay the bills but instead stealing the money for herself. In response to these troubles, Warwick Sabin, then UCA’s associate vice president for communications, took over as publisher of the journal.

In late 2011, the Oxford American signed a lease on a building in downtown Little Rock, with plans to house the magazine’s business offices as well as possibly a café, with the aims of developing an institution that will collaborate with other local arts organizations.

In July 2012, Smirnoff and managing editor Carol Ann Fitzgerald were fired by the OA board amid allegations of sexual harassment and other improprieties. In September 2012, Texas native Roger Hodge, who edited Harper’s magazine from 2006 to 2010, was named managing editor.

For additional information:
Garner, Dwight. “It Was the New Yorker with Hot Sauce.” New York Times, December 4, 2012, p. C1. Online at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/04/books/oxford-american-hail-to-literary-magazines-past-and-future.html?_r=0 (accessed December 13, 2012).

Hale-Shelton, Debra. “Debt Recurring Plot at Oxford American.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, January 8, 2012, pp. 1B, 3B.

Oxford American. http://www.oxfordamericanmag.com/ (accessed July 16, 2012).

Saxbe, Darby. “Born Again: The Oxford American Rises From the Ashes.” Media Bistro. http://www.mediabistro.com/content/archives/03/01/20a/ (accessed January 6, 2005).

C. L. Bledsoe
Ghoti Magazine

Last Updated 12/13/2012

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