Tin House is one of the best literary magazines out there, publishing some of the most compelling and exciting literary works in the contemporary literary scene. They are a print magazine publication based in Portland, Oregon, and they mostly publish well-established writers. It’s not impossible for emerging writers to be published in Tin House, but it would be quite an accomplishment. Don’t let that be a deterrent from reading and submitting to the magazine; at the very least, you can learn a lot about writing from reading the pieces and absorbing their style.
The magazine, which is printed quarterly, contains fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and book reviews. Its works are tied together not by an overarching style or theme, but by a commitment to exploring new territories of writing. For example, in Tin House’s latest issue of Spring 2014, one of its fiction stories, “Arcadia” is told in the format of a magazine advertisement for a retreat and rehabilitation facility. The story plays out in the interesting dialogue between the marketing descriptions that paint a rosy, idealistic picture, and the testimonials, which hint at the troubled minds of the people visiting the facility. Not all of Tin House’s works are experimental, but all of them push the boundaries of their genre in some way or another.
In Tin House’s spring and fall issues, there is, however, a theme, and works are chosen based on how they align with that theme in different ways. The Fall 2013 issue was on the theme “Wild,” and it is really interesting to see how widely interpreted that simple concept can be, ranging from depictions of a tourist encountering locals in El Salvador to the brothels of Las Vegas.
Tin House tends to publish longer works of fiction and creative nonfiction of up to 10,000 words. These longer pieces delve deep, allowing, in fiction, for much development of character and setting, and in creative nonfiction, for a much more nuanced treatment of the subject matter.
Tin House’s creative nonfiction is outstanding, and often tends towards journalistic writing more so than other forms of nonfiction, such as essays or memoirs. In the latest fall issue, “The Last Days of the Baldock” by Inara Verzemnieks and “Company Town” by Ginger Strand are two very fascinating pieces that examined little-known slices of American life— the former depicts people living in RVs at a rest stop in Oregon, plagued by poverty, addiction, crime, and homelessness, who nevertheless come together as a community, and the latter discusses the legalized sex trade in Las Vegas. What struck me was how these works brought to life the people in these strange situations, showing their humanity. Also, the writers did not sacrifice vivid language for the sake of being factual. In fact one of the images that stood out the most was in “Company Town”:
“Periodically, a boob would escape from her blue bikini top and she’d calmly tuck it back inside, the way a waitress at the pickup counter might absently stick a stray french fry back on a plate.” -Ginger Strand, “Company Town”No one every said you can’t use apt and witty metaphors in nonfiction! The poetry published in Tin House is lyrical, fluid, and witty. For the casual reader, it is fairly accessible, but some of the more experimental pieces were lost on me. One particularly humorous poem by Major Jackson, entitled “OK Cupid” after the eponymous dating website, was a long list of similes that strung together the most bizarre associations with the phrase “Dating a ____ is like dating a ____”.
“…and dating history is like dating a white man/ and dating a white man is like dating insecurity/ and dating insecurity is like dating a Hummer/ and dating a Hummer is like dating the Pentagon…” -Major Jackson, “OK Cupid”And on and on it goes, utterly destroying with social media concept of “If you like this, you also will like this” through parody, taking this idea to its absolute extreme. I thought it was pretty funny. I highly recommend checking out Tin House. They do put a selection of their works on their website, but the full print publication is available by subscription only. If you can’t afford the subscription, see if your local library has it, or perhaps just flip through it at your local bookstore.