term used to designate certain magazines that have as their purpose the publication of art, literature, or social theory by comparatively little-known writers.
Little magazines differ from the large commercial periodicals and major scholarly reviews by their emphasis on experimentation in writing, their perilous nonprofit operation, and their comparatively small audience of intellectuals. Prototypes of the 20th-century little magazine were The Dial (Boston, 1840–44), a transcendentalist review edited by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller, and the English Savoy (1896), a manifesto in revolt against Victorian materialism.
The little-magazine movement in this century began in 1912 with Poetry: A Magazine of Verse (Chicago, 1912–), edited by Harriet Monroe with Ezra Pound as the foreign editor. Poetry enjoyed a long period of success. During World War I a large number of other magazines appeared, the most notable of which were Others (1915–19), edited by Alfred Kreymborg; the Little Review (Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Paris, 1914–29), edited by Margaret Anderson; and the Egoist (London, 1914–19), edited by Dora Mardson (1914) and Harriet Shaw Weaver (1914–19), which voiced the theories and practices of the imagists. The revived Dial, edited in New York in the 1920s by Marianne Moore, had more than 30,000 readers by the middle of that decade.
Among the many poets whose early reputations owed much to little magazines were T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Ezra Pound, Edgar Lee Masters, Hart Crane, and Wallace Stevens. James Joyce's Ulysses had its first U.S. printing, in serial installments, in the Little Review. As a result the magazine was banned by court order and subsequently broken financially. Also appearing before 1920 and prefiguring much of the little-magazine movement of the 1930s were the proletarian or left-wing magazines. The first and most significant of these was The Masses (New York, 1911–17), guided principally by Max Eastman and Floyd Dell.
After World War I the “new” literary magazine appeared. Noted examples of this type were the Modern Review (1922–24), edited by Firwoode Tarleton; The Fugitive (Nashville, Tenn., 1922–25), whose editors included John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Donald Davidson, and Robert Penn Warren; Voices (Boston, 1921–65), edited by Harold Vinal; Secession (1922–24), published in Vienna, Berlin, Brooklyn, and elsewhere and edited by Gorham Munson; and Broom (1921–24), a rival of Secession, edited by Harold Loeb and Alfred Kreymborg.
Also important were This Quarter (Paris, Milan, 1925–32), edited by Ernest J. Walsh and The Enemy (London, 1927–29), edited by Wyndham Lewis. The first of the regional magazines also appeared at this time—The Midland (Iowa City, 1915–33), edited by John T. Frederick. Others were The Frontier (1920–39), which celebrated the Pacific Northwest; the Southwest Review (1924–), edited by J. B. Hubbell; Double-Dealer (New Orleans, 1921–26), edited by John McClure; and the Prairie Schooner (1927–).
In the 1930s important little magazines connected with the left-wing movement included New Masses (1926–48); the Modern Quarterly (1923–40); The Anvil (1933–35); Blast (1933–34); and the Partisan Review (1933–), which soon abandoned politics and turned to literary affairs. Notable among the literary magazines were transition (Paris, 1927–38), established by Eugene Jolas; New Verse (London, 1933–39); and Criterion (London, 1922–39), edited by T. S. Eliot.
In the 1940s little magazines came to be associated with groups of writers and poets in academic circles, for example, the Kenyon Review (1939–). In the late 1960s the underground press in combination with an avant-garde striving to articulate its rejection of established attitudes fostered a rebirth of little-magazine publishing. This produced hundreds of mostly short-lived reviews, including the New York Quarterly, Aphra, A Feminist Literary Magazine, the Little Magazine, and the American Review.