A Brief,
Survey of
Arts and Literary
Sites on the Web

Douglas Cruickshank
"A magazine for the living."
- - - Gary Indiana on
The Fessenden Review
The Village Voice [1988]

Is the print magazine Artforum still around? If so, is it any less boring and tedious than it was 30 years ago when – like an idiot – I had a subscription? How about the moribund Paris Review? It matters not because there are a whole new slew of art and literary mags online nowadays, publications that are made for people who aren't dead yet. There are so many, it's tough to keep up, but I've selected ten that I keep coming back to, and briefly laud them below.
Literary Hub
Literary Hub calls itself, An "organizing principle in the service of literary culture, a single, trusted, daily source for all the news, ideas and richness of contemporary literary life." There is more great literary content online than ever before, but it is scattered, easily lost –with the help of its editorial partners, Lit Hub is a site readers can rely on for smart, engaged, entertaining writing about all things books. Each day – alongside original content and exclusive excerpts – Literary Hub is proud to showcase an editorial feature from one of its many partners from across the literary spectrum: publishers big and small, journals, bookstores, and non-profits." And so it does. Warning: Don't visit this site unless you have plenty of time on your hands and are ready for an experience that we can only describe in old print 'n' paper terms. A page turner. Yeah, it's unputdownable. A few morsels from the current issue:
– Vietnamese And Vietnamese American Lit: A Primer From Viet Thanh Nguyen
– On Being A Mother And A Writer In A Time Of War
– When Your Hometown Is Crammed With Aspiring Writers
– Carlos Fonseca On The Legacy Of Ricardo Piglia
– Remembering A Visionary Of Argentine Letters

"Last month I published my first novel, which took seven years to write. In these seven years I also had two babies. The novel is about war, or rather two men caught at the cusp of America's entry into World War I, and their struggle to reconcile personal liberty with social responsibility. The babies are now five and two years old . . .

"Today, I pause to consider the fact that I wrote my first novel while carrying, nursing, and beginning to raise two children. I say simply this: it was hard. It was really, really hard. I don't say this to complain, but rather to honor that fact, and to stand in solidarity with the millions of women around the world who are also, as I write this, doing really hard things, and to recognize the plight of generations of women before us who did infinitely harder things in order to earn us this right and privilege.

"But the hardest part for me wasn't all that mother stuff that so complicates the 21st century dream that we can have it all: lining up babysitters, figuring out what to do when they call in sick, making lunches or dinners or changing diapers. Nor was it seeing friends publish books – and then second books – while I watched the days and months rip off the calendar without darkening the door of my writing shed."

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The book reviews are the heart, soul, meat and potatoes of this excellent publication, but it also features a newsy blog that keeps readers apprised of worthwhile happenings in the literary world. What's more, there's a newsletter, a multimedia component and more. A recent edition featured reviews of non-print reading technology as well as articles about World Read Aloud Day (February 16th), and a piece about the real (not artificial) fact that "Dystopian Fiction Sales [are] on the Rise Since Inauguration" – "Everybody loves a good book about the end of the world . . . While some titles are about surviving the aftermath of a comet or a nuclear bomb, some are decidedly pointing the finger at various governments . . . " And – my favorite article – the tale of "five teenage boys . . . arrested for spray-painting the Ashburn Colored School [in Virginia] with racist, sexist and anti-Semitic symbols."

The judge, who actually has judgment, sentenced the five to reading. Among the more than thirty books the kids will read and write reports on: The Color Purple, Native Son, The Sun Also Rises, The Crucible, The Kite Runner, The Banality of Evil, Cry the Beloved Country.

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Book Riot is put together by people who seem to have held onto their common sense somehow. Will wonders never cease? The site explains itself like so, "Book Riot is dedicated to the idea that writing about books and reading should be just as diverse as books and readers are. So sometimes we are serious and sometimes silly. Some of our writers are pros. Many of them aren't. We like a good list just as much as we like a good review. We think you can like both J.K. Rowling and J.M. Coetzee . . . "

The site's makers are nuts for books and they have good, and unusual, taste. Book Riot features writing, podcasts, and video about books, books, and books. Recent content includes, "Libraries Resist: A Round-Up of Tolerance, Social Justice, & Resistance in US Libraries;" "Hollywood Fails History: Hidden Figures;" and an article on 100 Must-Read Graphic Memoirs.

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Femrite is the Uganda Women Writers' Association, though they give plenty of attention to male writers too. My online attention leans toward African, specifically Ugandan, art and literary sites as I have lived in the magnificent country since 2009. It is a place of outsize landscape, animals, heart, soul and imagination. No wonder its writers are so productive and possess such rich visions.

Largely focused on African writing, the group holds workshops, celebrates writers from everywhere. Recent Authors of the Month include Geoff Ryman, Olive Lawino, Timothy Wangusa, and Noviolet Bulawayo. In addition to focusing on individual authors, FEMRITE sponsors the African Women Writers Initiatives Network (AWWINET), "an umbrella organisation intended to support coordinated action among initiatives for African women writers, with the aim of strategically positioning women's literary output on the continent's development agenda."

Founded in 1996, Femrite is now one of the preeminent literary groups in Africa.

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Just a few of this site's recent article titles give you a sense of its intellectual and visual liveliness, its vitality and lushness. Dig: "Conjuring Paintings' Innermost Thoughts at the Barnes Foundation;" "A Play Gives Voice to the 'Hottentot Venus';" "Beyoncé's Pregnancy Photos Cast Her as a Venus for the Black Diaspora," and so on.

Hyperallergic posts a half dozen or more such articles a week – thought-provoking, dense, insightful. Its writers don't know how to be boring. Billed as a "forum for serious, playful, and radical thinking about art in the world today," the site delivers and then some. Emerging artist "Awol Erizku's photographs refer to a long history of paintings of Venus," John Bowles writes about the recent pregnancy pictures of singer Beyoncé. "Reclining, Beyoncé resembles Giorgione's "Sleeping Venus" (1508 - 10). Standing, she adopts the pose made famous by Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" (c. 1482).

Perhaps Botticelli borrowed this pose from the ancient Romans because it is erotically demure: Venus conceals her breasts and genitalia while drawing attention to the sensuous forms of her figure. The result is an idealized image of sexuality and sensuality with which artists continue to engage centuries later – something art historian Adrianna Campbell has suggested that Erizku is well aware of.

But Erizku and Beyoncé have made one important change from most of their Old Master predecessors: In these photographs, rather than looking into the distance like Botticelli's Venus, or having her eyes closed like Giorgione's, Beyonc'é is looking directly at the viewer, as if to acknowledge that she knows we feel compelled to look at her, perhaps out of desire or longing to be like her. As a result, she has the appearance of being largely in control of how we see her."

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Much of the work featured on This Is Colossal falls somewhere between art and craft, or is perhaps craft elevated to art. Take the wooden furniture sculpted by Pontus Willfors Sprouts. The article on his work – chairs with limbs and roots protruding from them – "Through his sculptural practice, artist Pontus Willfors says that he seeks to examine 'aspects of nature that are viewed by our society as product, nuisance or waste.' One of his frequently recurring motifs is the form of tree branches and root systems that sprout from from everyday objects as seen in this collection of furniture pieces that remind us explicitly of the material's origins."

In a piece about "Colombia-based artist Diana Beltran Herrera," it's discussed how she has "been fascinated by birds since she was a child, however it wasn't until four years ago that she started working with their forms. Her incredibly lifelike depictions are built entirely out of cut paper and imitate a variety of bird species from all over the world. Each iteration of her work we have followed with intrigue, including one of her latest projects which incorporates her sculptural pieces into oversized postage stamps from countries which she has always admired. "I always felt inspired by postage stamps as they are little windows of the world," said Herrera to Colossal, "specifically those that contain birds which are often traveling around the word. I have collected a few and I felt that I wanted to open those stamps to a much more realistic scale to learn more about that particular animal and its landscape."

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Lawino was started by writers, to promote writing from Africa, with particular focus on Uganda. It is named in honor of the most famous Ugandan writer, Okot p'Bitek, who wrote the poem 'Song of Lawino, Song of Ocol'. In addition, the name alludes to the delay of written literature in Uganda to come alive and meet the expectations set by Okot p'Bitek. Lawino is an Acholi name, normally given to a baby girl if the placenta did not come out soon after her birth. Here, from the magazine's most recent number, is a poem by Kadmiella Akosua Atuah, a Ghanaian student in New York:

A Stranger's Words to a Father

There are so many things
Things she wishes she could tell,
So you understand at least a fourth of her
But she can't say really, she can't just because
because you aren't really made for that.

You aren't made of elastic and brim-wire
Neither are you made of candy and iron inside out like herself.
Rather you're the one that is made, heart in and heart out
of rust-free aluminum, the kind that makes almost
endless points of roofing on the next-door neighbor's head.
You don't bend, recoil or scratch. At least until you are cut.

You restrict, or better yet you're made to sit and form the so-called beauty you think you're made for.
You pose like an art so expensive, the zeros that end it's price tag alone
Is enough to draw a Replica of that very same art.

You say you stand for hard work, diligence and home.
When in reality you stand for happiness, without the hard work put in.
You prefer to gain, stand tall and accept all acknowledgment,
Yet fists go high to heaven in order not to feel the pain that gain's cousin brings.

But what on earth do I know?
Really, I'm just a young woman,
with my panty hoes too high for comfort,
and my girdle too tight for circulation, watching and noticing,

that these essentials of hers are blind spots for you.

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Juxtapoz is digital eclecticism of vast proportions. Writing in the current edition, Iqvinder Singh says, "Since Frederick Douglass is back in the news, thanks to Donald Trump, it's only right that we highlight one of the books on this man as it relates to photography. In Picturing Frederick Douglas: An Illustrated Biography of the 19th Century's Most Photographed American, co-author Celeste-Marie Bernier said, 'For Douglass, photography was the lifeblood of being able to be seen and not caricatured, to be represented and not grotesque, to be seen as fully human and not as an object or chattel to be bought and sold.' Marie's partner, John Stauffer also indicated that Frederick almost never smiled in his poses as he did not want to be portrayed as a happy slave."

And in a review of the Berkeley Art Museum exhibit Hippie Modernism: The Greatest Artists You've Never Heard Of, which will run February to May of 2017, Carlo McCormick writes, "Chronology is a bitch. The fool's frame by which we mangle and molest the irascible erratic energies of culture into some semblance of order, the compartmentalization of time into a cluster of events, is the pedantry of history misinforming our necessary understanding of the messy ways in which ideas and sensibilities flow freely and unpredictably across generations. Quite arguably a necessary evil, its scope and limitations are at once useful and problematic, as much for the museum as for all those other cultural industries by which nostalgia is fobbed off as history. . . .

"Beyond those tired exaggerated flashbacks of boring old baby boomers declaiming the parties and politics of their youth as if a badge of long-expired hipness, there has been so very little attention paid to the radical visual strategies that emerged out of the psychedelic era. Hippie Modernism is a vital testament to some of the greatest artists that hardly anyone has heard of, and this is by no means insignificant. While many who can name the legendary bands of the era that now constitute that comfortable cultural rut called Classic Rock, any knowledge or understanding of those artists working with paint, prose, light shows, film and other expanded media to describe this same psychedelic experience is esoteric to the point of impossible obscurity.

"What is odd and misfit is the expanse of the show, from 1964 to 1974, where the kind of ground-zero, blow-your-mind impact of this counterculture is followed far into the fallow fields of back-to-nature escapism, navel-gazing utopianism, and after the riots of entrepreneurship that made the early 1970s such a wretched bearded and unwashed mess of smug, hypocritical faux-enlightenment."

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This site is a splendid goulash of observations, excerpts and unclassifiable observations curated by the tres savvy and erudite Maria Popova, who describes herself as a "reader, writer, interestingness hunter-gatherer, and curious mind at large." She's hits the nail on the head. She's written in the past for Wired UK, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and Harvard's Nieman Journalism Lab, and she's an "MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow," whatever that might be.

Popova explains: "The core ethos behind Brain Pickings is that creativity is a combinatorial force: it's our ability to tap into our mental pool of resources – knowledge, insight, information, inspiration, and all the fragments populating our minds – that we've accumulated over the years just by being present and alive and awake to the world, and to combine them in extraordinary new ways. In order for us to truly create and contribute to the world, we have to be able to connect countless dots, to cross-pollinate ideas from a wealth of disciplines, to combine and recombine these pieces and build new ideas."

She then goes on about LEGOS, but I'll let you find that for yourself. Popova is a connoisseur of over-long titles, such as: "Rachel Carson's Brave and Prescient 1953 Letter Against the Government's Assault on Science and Nature;" "Mary Oliver on What Attention Really Means and Her Moving Elegy for Her Soul Mate;" "Rebecca Solnit on Hope in Dark Times, Resisting the Defeatism of Easy Despair, and What Victory Really Means for Movements of Social Change;" "The Science of Stress and How Our Emotions Affect Our Susceptibility to Burnout and Disease;" and "The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone."

"Since 2005, Poetry Out Loud has grown to reach more than 3 million students and 50,000 teachers from 10,000 school in every state, Washington, DC, the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico." As you might expect, the site offers an archive of poetry, written, recorded and on video – both amateurs and professionals, from Chris Abani, Dilruba Ahmed and Richard Aldington to Walter de La Mare, Marsha De La O and Blas Manuel De Luna.

Written poems are catolged here:


Videos are here:

And audio poems are here:

Here is By Stephen Vincent Benét's "Difference:"
My mind's a map. A mad sea-captain drew it
Under a flowing moon until he knew it;
Winds with brass trumpets, puffy-cheeked as jugs,
And states bright-patterned like Arabian rugs.
"Here there be tygers." "Here we buried Jim."
Here is the strait where eyeless fishes swim
About their buried idol, drowned so cold
He weeps away his eyes in salt and gold.
A country like the dark side of the moon,
A cider-apple country, harsh and boon,
A country savage as a chestnut-rind,
A land of hungry sorcerers.
                                                   Your mind?

Your mind is water through an April night,
A cherry-branch, plume-feathery with its white,
A lavender as fragrant as your words,
A room where Peace and Honor talk like birds,
Sewing bright coins upon the tragic cloth
Of heavy Fate, and Mockery, like a moth,
Flutters and beats about those lovely things.
You are the soul, enchanted with its wings,
The single voice that raises up the dead
b To shake the pride of angels.
                                                  I have said.

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You don't agree, think I missed one or more of the best sites? Set me straight, hurt my feelings, enlighten me and the RALPH readership by citing 1 - 3 of your favorite art or literary sites and tell us why.

--- D. C.
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