Founded in 1953 by Harold L. Humes, Peter Matthiessen and George Plimpton, the Paris Review is more than just a quarterly journal. It is a literary institution. As stated in the magazine’s inaugural issue, the creators wanted a vehicle to showcase great new fiction and poetry without shifting into literary critique, which was the dominant style of the time. The Paris Review is not un-critical but its focus is a celebration of great writing.
And it’s a celebration like no other, the list of contributing authors is jaw-dropping. It’s a who’s who of great writers in the modern era, people who are recognized by their last name alone - Hemingway, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Mailer, Nabokov, Pinter, Updike, Vonnegut, Waugh, Wodehouse and so it continues. In many instances, the Paris Review was actually the first to publish these authors’ stories making the quarterly the premier place for both high profile and aspiring writers to be published in the 1950s and 60s.
The Paris Review was put together and staffed by a collective of literary aficionados but it was Plimpton, the editor from founding until his death in 2003, who was the driving force behind the magazine’s success. Plimpton was a man with connections - including the Kennedys as well as Harvard and Cambridge alumni - that helped acquire key contributors and interviews in the early days. It also didn’t hurt that Plimpton was a fascinating man. He wrote a number of books; including several where he attempted to compete in various professional sports and then write about his experiences. He did this with the NFL’s Detroit Lions in Paper Lion, the NHL’s Boston Bruins in Open Net, the PGA golf tour in The Bogey Man, and sparred for three rounds with Sugar Ray Robinson while on assignment for Sports Illustrated.
The most amazing legacy of the Paris Review is its legendary interview series. Famous for insights into the lives and minds of their subjects, each interview paints a perfect picture of the author, their surroundings, and mindset at the time. Each one is a little piece of literary history.
It is one of the most collectible literary magazines and is still going strong today.