Volume Two of The New Guard literary review is 140 pages longer than its predecessor, as though its creators decided to demonstrate its growing relevance by gleefully stuffing it with more material. The 2011 edition features poems, short stories, interviews with Maine authors and poets, and letters from writers to superheroes and supervillains. It is a rollicking read, at turns whimsical, sad, and experimental. Perhaps most notably, the volume includes a never-before-published piece by Ralph Ellison (author of 1952's Invisible Man) — the seven-page "A Storm of Blizzard Proportions," which deals with war and place and loss.
The New Guard burst onto the scene in 2010, the brainchild of Knightville resident Shanna McNair, who is the daughter of acclaimed poet Wesley McNair. Curated by two international contests judged by renowned authors and poets, the journal is a bright spot in Maine's literary landscape. This year's contests are open from March 1 to June 18.
On Friday, April 6, The New Guard will hold its inaugural reading — the first of a series — at Longfellow Books. Learn more at newguardreview.com. We spoke with Shanna McNair about the journal, Ellison's story, and her definition of wonderful work. Her edited responses are below.
HOW, WHEN, AND WHY WAS THE NEW GUARD FOUNDED? WHERE DID THE NAME COME FROM? I founded The New Guard in July 2009. I wanted to start up something like a Maine McSweeney's; a contemporary new literary review that would reflect the tremendous creative energy here in Maine. I figured the project needed to be almost bigger than I could imagine, and the name had to be something to live up to: a real clarion call. I settled on The New Guard because I wanted to honor the old and the new, and because it has a postmodern, ballsy edge. The dare of the name has pushed me to realize its potential. In part, I started this venture because I was dismayed by the taste of some larger national magazines, and dismayed by the fact that the present publishing market is so tough on the new writer. The current issue is packed with 64 writers — and most of those writers are new writers. I'm proud of that.
I came up with a general formula: the review centers on our international contests, in order to give new writers the most play possible. The finalists and semi-finalists in poetry and fiction are all published, and I solicit privately for features. It's good for new writers to be in a book alongside well-known writers, so I've worked hard to secure outstanding contributors and judges. TNG is a classy joint: our special sections are in the vein of big literary magazines.
WHAT ISTNG'S RELATIONSHIP WITH ITS HOME STATE? Maine fosters independent growth in the arts, and community. Without the generous support of Maine artists and writers, without the faith of the TNG team — we wouldn't have a review. We've had, for the most part, an all-Maine team. I have a passion for writing and a passion for Maine. Team members have felt the same, and TNG is an expression of commitment to both. We've had several Maine contributors, and the "Twenty Questions" section is an ode to Maine-based writers. Our cover art, web art, and illustrations are all done by Maine artists, and the present cover art, by Jeff McCreight, is from a painting that hangs over the bar at Local 188. I also named our contests for Maine places: The Machigonne Fiction Contest is named for Portland's original name, and the Knightville Poetry Contest is after the community where I live.