In the spring of 1951, a season marked by high sea pressure and sizable precipitation, the first issue of The Penn Review was released. Printed on clementine-colored paper, this issue contained four poems, three short stories, and two essays on the state of mid-century American literature, as well as a series of advertisements for bookshops and cigarette brands. In his introduction to the volume, editor-in-chief Barry B. Spacks referred to it as “at once an end and a beginning,” the culmination of a seemingly inexhaustible supply of labor and faith on the part of its founding members.
In the fifteen years that followed, the magazine shuffled through appellations, moving from regality (“The Pennsylvania Literary Review”) to a more audacious nomenclature (“The Handle”) before settling on its modern incarnation (“Pennsylvania Review”) in 1966—a name that was itself shortened to “Penn Review” in the 1980s in the interests of ink-conservation.
In order to commemorate the first fifteen years of our history, which have previously gone unacknowledged, we’ve shifted the numbering of this present issue to No. 69. While we no longer print so much nicotine-related content, our mission remains the same. As Barry B. Spacks wrote in 1951:
“We believe that a vibrant, intense society, a democratic nation, must encourage and support its artists. They are the essential interpreters, visionaries, yea-sayers and critics of their times. The free artist is the symbol of a healthy society; the encouraged artist a symbol of an enlightened one. Our ideal, then, is this: we hope to provide a source of encouragement and a chance for the development of Pennsylvania’s writers. We hope to provide a helping hand and a ready ear to any of the nebulous awakenings of artistic talent. We hope to provide our public with some stimulating reading. We feel that a large University should accept such a function as a necessary responsibility—to bring before the public eye the work of its nascent artists. Only through the presence, the continued presence, of a means of publication for such work can we hope to accomplish these aims.
“Thus our hopes are not encompassed in the publication of this, our initial attempt. The real goal is a permanent literary magazine at our University. This is the goal we have set for ourselves and our successors. Only by your approval of our project and by your aid can we reach it.”
In the spirit of The Penn Review’s founding members, we’ve gathered together a rich selection of poetry, prose, and artwork in this digital issue, as well as a range of recently-discovered poems from our archives. We hope that you enjoy the work of these “essential interpreters,” and that their words and images resonate with your own ideas of democracy.