The prevailing wisdom about how Generation Y likes to consume media usually begins and ends with: they like it ironic, short and only online.
But Uzoamaka Maduka — co-creator of the new literary journal the American Reader and a Howard County native — isn’t buying it.
Living in New York, the 25-year-old and her Princeton classmate, Jac Mullen, came up with the idea last winter after recurring
conversations about the state of the literary industry. Since its debut last fall, the duo has published three issues, built a thriving online presence and created larger-than-life buzz about Maduka in the New York literary scene. She’s become the darling of New York City media as well, with write-ups in publications such as the New York Times and the New York Observer.
Recently, Maduka talked with The RootDC about how she plans to sustain a print magazine in today’s fledgling subscription industry, paying homage to the legacy of writers who have inspired her, and why it’s so important for younger generations to go beyond their Web browsers and keep craving good literature.
Tell me how the idea for the American Reader came to you.
It came to the co-founder Jac [Mullen] and I — we were just constantly having these conversations about the literary world, what it was like, some of its problems, some of its hang-ups, some of the ways in which we thought it wasn’t fully serving its audience . . . not serving the audience that was emerging, the Gen-Y readers. We had these conversations for a while, and one evening we realized that there might be something we could do about it and that we might be able to create something that could fill that gap.
It seems that we are in an age where so much of the information we receive in the media world and literary world is quickly consumed. Do we still have the attention span to read a good story anymore?
Yeah, absolutely. But I think what we’re gonna probably see as we come of age is that we are actually a much more serious generation. That we are thinkers, intellectuals — and we are movers. I prefer to look at the kind of innovative and creative spirit that you’ve seen on these digital platforms that come from our generation and the way in which we sort of play with and manipulate media to make it do what we want it to do, and bring about conversations that we desire and need. We are certainly not stuck on one form of media.
You have made a home in New York, but did you ever think about bringing the American Reader to a place like Washington, which also has a strong literary community?
I think that when I get older, when I have a family and everything, I definitely want to be back in Maryland. I do credit Maryland a lot for my development, for my way of seeing the world. The school that I went to — Notre Dame Prep — hammered home the importance of being a full woman. A full woman was being generous, being faithful, being kind, but also being tenacious and also being aware of the world around you and working for that. It also meant being yourself and being creative and understanding that all those things could go together with a happy life.
The digital space of the American Reader is filled with daily interviews, essays and a feature titled Day In Lettres, where vintage correspondences between literary figures are published. Why was it important to you to have this “throwback feature” on the site?
One thing that we thought was really important was to emphasize the possibility of conversation even when you disagree. And it doesn’t mean that we agree to disagree; it means we can agree to keep fighting. And I think that’s one of the things that we have and we’re showing in the letters is that these people who you see their names on bookshelves and stuff, they were living, breathing human beings with attachments and passions that they fought furiously for and they fought furiously for them with their family and with their husbands and their wives and with their priests and with everyone.
Did you expect for things to take off so quickly?
I was hoping for but wasn’t prepared for the reception we received, and that has been really heartening. Part of what keeps us working every day is knowing that it has struck a chord with other people in our generation. It’s not something that is just specific to us. We really were hearing and tuning in to things that were actually generational and not just specific to us.