At AGNI, we’re hungry for writing that aims beyond conventional language and structure, laying fresh siege to the mysteries of being alive in the twenty-first century. To achieve this, a writer has to stay close to the narrower question of what experience feels like to him or her—which is not to say that writers need to “write what they know” in any narrow or superficial sense, but that we need to recognize that the distinctive texture of the world as we apprehend it is our fingerprint and seal.
AGNI is a forum for the “cultural conversation” of literature. But it’s up to writers to shape that conversation. We don’t choose work for its subject or setting or themes but for its vibrancy, freshness, and honesty.
We look for language that sings in a new key, that doesn’t settle for notes we’ve heard a million times before. Newness in literature is contextual, though, and a move into less-familiar territory may rely on forgotten roots, a recalling of little-heard notes from some earlier song—Cormac McCarthy comes to mind, in his reliance on Biblical cadences and language.
How a subject is handled, how a story is told—these are of paramount importance. We look for obliqueness rather than straight-on journalistic telling, because nobody’s deepest experience of the world, it seems to us, lacks the curve of idiosyncrasy.
In Hamlet, Polonius says, “And thus do we of wisdom and of reach, / With windlasses and with assays of bias, / By indirections find directions out. . . .” All storytelling makes use of rhetoric and indirectness—language itself is indirect—but writers who reach beyond the conventional approaches of the day and excavate for themselves can discover veins of language and meaning inaccessible by safer, less adventurous methods.
When looking at a submission, we ask ourselves if the writing avoids false simplicities, conveys an unspoken acknowledgement that the world in fact doesn’t look the same to all of us, and, with its choices of narrator, tone, and structure, aims to “find directions,” knowing that navigating this world is complex enough to require triangulation.
PEN American Center, in awarding Founding Editor Askold Melnyczuk its lifetime achievement award for magazine editing, said, "Among readers around the world, AGNI is known for publishing important new writers early in their careers. . . . AGNI has become one of America's, and the world's, most significant literary journals" and "a beacon of international literary culture." Ha Jin (1999 National Book Award), Jhumpa Lahiri (2000 Pulitzer Prize), and Susanna Kaysen (Girl, Interrupted) are but a few who appeared in our pages first or early on, alongside already famous names such as David Foster Wallace, Sharon Olds, and Seamus Heaney.
Housed at Boston University and edited since 2002 by essayist and literary critic Sven Birkerts, AGNI publishes two 240-page issues annually. AGNI Online (www.agnimagazine.org), an electronic extension of the print magazine, features biweekly postings of new Web-only fiction, poetry, essays, and interviews. AGNI is a 501(c)(3) charitable corporation that relies on additional support from Boston University, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and a committed roster of individual donors (www.bu.edu/agni/friends-of-agni.html).