AGNI was founded in 1972 at Antioch College by
undergraduate Askold Melnyczuk, a then-aspiring (now accomplished) writer
with his own vision of a vehicle for alternative news, visual arts, and
literature. Melnyczuk was interested in creating a magazine that would feature
a new generation of writers and visual artists.
Eric Hoffman, an associate editor at the time (now professor of radiology, medicine and biomedical engineering at University of Iowa), wrote to describe those days: “The first issue was printed on a printing press in the middle of the night with the two of us running it. Askold took the printing class just so that we could gain access to the press. We spent most of the time trying to back Askold’s hair out of the press after it was caught in the rollers. Later issues were printed by the Antioch Bookplate Company” (see photo, right). After Yellow Springs, Ohio, the magazine moved to northern New Jersey and then western Massachusetts before arriving, in the mid-1980s, at its current home in the College of Arts and Sciences at Boston University.
We see literature and the arts as part of a broad,
ongoing cultural conversation
that every society needs to remain
vibrant and alive. Our writers and
artists hold a mirror up to nature, mankind, the world; they courageously
reflect their age, for better or worse; and their work provokes
perceptions and thoughts that help us understand and respond to our age. Literature for literature’s sake is not what AGNI
Aside from regular inclusion of its work in the annual Best American,
O. Henry Prize, and Pushcart Prize anthologies, “[a]mong readers around
the world, AGNI is known for publishing important new writers early in
their careers,” as PEN American Center put it in 2001. Such authors include
Jhumpa Lahiri (Pulitzer Prize, 2000, for Interpreter
of Maladies; the title story appeared in AGNI 47 in 1998), Ha Jin
(National Book Award, 1999; many of his early poems and stories appeared
in AGNI and he was a Featured Poet in 1989), and Susanna Kaysen
(Girl, Interrupted, first excerpted in AGNI in 1991),
as well as Mark Doty, Glyn Maxwell, Sven Birkerts, and Olena Kalytiak Davis, whom we’ve printed
alongside such luminaries as Seamus Heaney, Joyce Carol Oates, Derek Walcott, and many others.
AGNI has published more than seventy-nine issues
in a history touching five decades. The magazine
is one of the strongest voices of one of the most active writing
communities in America, and we continue to focus on developing
audiences for contemporary literature. We have held hundreds of
readings (in Boston and nationwide) featuring such writers
as Louise Glück, Lan Samantha Chang, and Robert
Pinsky (see upcoming events on our homepage).
Another important aspect of AGNI’s editorial history and
vision is its abiding interest in the important cultural questions
that concern us all, both domestically and internationally.
Most issues include work from multiple languages, and
translations from Urdu, Dutch, Latin, German, Spanish, Hungarian,
Ukrainian, Yiddish, Chinese, Turkish, Greek and Ancient Greek, Hebrew, Albanian, Old English, Polish, Italian, Slovenian,
French, and Latvian have
appeared in AGNI. We also continue to feature a variety of
challenging topics, from features on Spirituality
after Silicon Valley and Social Control and the Arts
to George Packer’s “School on a Garbage Pile,”
a profile of Haiti’s school systems, and Julia Lieblich’s
“Pieces of Bone,” a story of torture in Guatemala.
Each issue includes at least forty writers/artists, with our
print run now at 3,000. AGNI has paying subscribers in
thirty-eight states and ten countries, is carried by over one hundred university
and city libraries, and is distributed to independent and
chain bookstores nationwide. Like our writers, our contributing
editors span genres, genders, races, and international borders,
such as Thomas Sayers Ellis (an African-American poet in Ohio),
Oksana Zabuzhko (a female novelist in Ukraine), and Tom Sleigh
(a white poet/translator in New York).
In our history, six AGNI writers have gone on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature: Seamus Heaney (the 1995 laureate), Derek Walcott (1992), Wisława Szymborska (1996), J. M. G. Le Clezio (2008), Tomas Tranströmer (2011), and Patrick Modiano (2014), whom AGNI was the first to publish in English. We’ve also published two other winners of the Nobel during their lifetimes, after they’d won the prize: Odysseas Elytis (1979) and Joseph Brodsky (1987).
History of the AGNI Monkey
The “flying monkey,” drawn by a long-ago intern, has been AGNI’s logo since 1994 (AGNI 40). In 2003 he was reborn as the “monkey demon” from Richard Fariña’s 1966 novel Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me:
“SHAZAM!” He was up on the table, making a noise like a thunderclap, then with a bound into the middle of the dining room, pointing a finger at Harold Wong. “Beware the monkey-demon, Wong.” Then to all the startled faces, their every expression chilled stiff, interrupted: “Lock your doors, gang. Bolt your bedroom windows. He may be the house mascot now, but in ten years, zoom, back to Peking, a commissar. Swoop . . .” He was out the door, flapping his wings like a bird trying to fly. . . .