New editor Adam Ross turned to Peter Mendelsund and Oliver Munday for the venerable literary journal's first major redesign since editor Allen Tate engaged "legendary printer P.J. Conkwright" for one in autumn 1944, according to the SR.
With a lighter typeface and a distinctive new logo, the magazine has a fresher, less ponderous appearance. The writing's also lighter and more conversational.
The journal's most daring break with tradition is Sidik Fofana's short story "The Okiedoke," written in black ghetto dialect. Outside of the frequent use of the "N-word," the story is quite conventional, and entertaining in its satire.
Some familiar names that show up often in progressive literary journals bring a contemporary feel to the refurbished SR, which during the George Core years heavily relied on aging white male professors. Some of Core's writers gave the impression of not having read anything new since 1946.
Along with the fresh design, the SR received a writing infusion from such notables as Adam Kirsch, Lauren Groff and Jamie Quarto. Ross connects with the University of the South's Sewanee Writers' Conference with the publication of an interview with longtime writers' conference faculty member Jill McCorkle. Long pioneered by the Paris Review, the writer's interview is a new format for the SR.
Sewanee notable John Jeremiah Sullivan anoints the refurbished journal with a piece on an early black journalist, perhaps the first writer to use the term "The blues." The SR also takes a fresh turn by taking note of contemporary politics with an article by Jon Meacham on Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton.
Longtime readers will be comforted with three poems by A.E. Stallings and one by Christian Wiman. There's also an article by Mary Jo Salter trumpeted as a "craft lecture," glancing at Mark Strand's poetry.
With Quarto and Groff, the new SR reminded me of a less visual cousin of the Oxford American. The old SR was rooted in an older generation of Southern writing. Now it joins the OA and magazines like Garden & Gun in celebrating a new, more urban-oriented Southern culture.
The new SR has made a steady launch. In opening up the windows and redecorating the rooms, the SR has engaged with contemporary literary culture. The old fusty journal was in need of fumigating, but it held to a distinctive style that had its virtues. The new SR risks sinking into the mass.