New Table Talk magazine hopes to start conversations

The first issue of Table Talk.
The first issue of Table Talk.

In these Huff-Buzz latter days, starting a literary journal sounds like setting up Ye Olde Shoppe of illuminated manuscripts. But who can resist such an act of wild optimism?

The latest example comes from 21-year-old Benjamin Moe. The son of Columbia University professors, he took off time from college to found an intellectual but strikingly beautiful magazine called Table Talk. (Not to be confused with the Christian devotional magazine Tabletalk.)

The project started this spring, when Moe launched a Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $8,000. The money has now allowed him to print 400 copies of his first issue, which sells for $15. Unfortunately, $15 isn’t enough to cover the costs of publication or pay contributors and editors, but Moe is already looking for  potential backers and planning a second issue.

I asked him about Table Talk via e-mail:

Good indie bookstores already offer a selection of lovely, unread literary magazines. Why do we need another one? What you are doing that Granta isn’t?

Table Talk aims not only to publish new and relevant literary works but also to bring in voices that up until this point have been largely ignored by literary journals. By putting people together from children’s book writers to boxers, we hope to develop an interaction of ideas that isn’t normally found in magazines. I think this bringing together of people, both renowned and unknown, from seemingly unrelated perspectives and speaking through different media, is what makes Table Talk an interesting new presence.

Your overriding concept seems particularly esoteric, and your first issue is devoted to the Spanish word “duende.” The new issue of Entertainment  Weekly tells me that “Teen Wolf” is “must see TV.” You’re in different universes, clearly. How would you describe your audience, your ideal reader.

With the first issue, our core readership has mainly been students, artists and writers, but we hope that as the magazine grows its readership will move towards being as wide and varied as that of the New Yorker. Right now, we are distributed in New York, Princeton, London, and Berlin and have readers online from 27 countries, from South Africa to Japan, Brazil to Bangladesh. The international aspect is important to us as the magazine publishes voices from different countries and cultures and hopes to speak to readers in equally varied locations.

Don’t you know that people your age are supposed to be starting websites? What are you doing fiddling with dead trees?

From the beginning, we were committed to making Table Talk a print magazine because we still believe that there is no replacement for reading a real physical object. That being said, print is neither sustainable nor can it be the sole medium of a publication in our day and age, so we are focusing on making the magazine not only a print, but an online destination. The second issue will launch with a new website that includes large format articles and a line-by-line commenting system that will allow readers to develop conversations around specific lines of text instead of commenting in a disconnected section at the very bottom of the page. This way we hope to make the magazine accessible to more people while extending the conversation beyond the pages. In addition to this, we are launching an online weekly series this month that will explore certain concepts and words in the current issue. In the fall, we are starting a video series that will bring some of our contributors together to discuss the issue’s theme around a table. These will be filmed in locations like old factories and shipping docks and then turned into short films that we will feature on our website.

What do you enjoy most about this project?

For me this whole project is made in dialogue, and it’s the back and forth with the team that I enjoy the most — bringing a half-shaped idea to the table and leaving with something fully formed. It’s also amazing to see how much people have wanted to help the project, from old friends to complete strangers.

What’s been the response from readers so far?

One woman who came to our launch event e-mailed me the day or so after to set up a meeting. At a café on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I sat down with her as she leafed through each page telling me her thoughts on the layout, pictures and articles. All the connections that we had worked so hard on were coming out as her observations. Her responses were a combination of admiration and really helpful criticism, like pointing out the need for a contributor’s page and descriptions of the articles. Since then, we have heard from many more readers who have both enjoyed and felt like they wanted more from the magazine. With the second issue, we are gathering contributors from even more diverse professions and perspectives as well as making sure that the language and style of the content is intelligent but accessible. One of the most exciting parts of developing this magazine is realizing it’s a living, maturing thing that grows and changes with each issue, hopefully communicating its message in more successful and interesting ways.

Note: Responses edited for clarity and length.

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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