Oxford American (OA)

The Oxford American (OA) is a quarterly journal of Southern culture and literature. Affiliated with the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) in Conway (Faulkner County), it publishes short fiction, poetry, and articles in a glossy format in the vein of Harper’s or the Atlantic Monthly.

The Oxford American is best known for its music issue, which focuses on often-overlooked Southern musicians and includes a CD of selected songs from these musicians. The Music Issue has been featured on National Public Radio many times and has won two National Magazine Awards for Best Single Topic Issue. OA has sporadic special issues with topics including Southern art, architecture, film, and food.

Founded under editor Marc Smirnoff in Oxford, Mississippi, in 1992 as a monthly journal, the OA was plagued for much of its early life by financial troubles, although bestselling author John Grisham came on board as publisher early in its run (his novel A Painted House was serialized in the magazine). After issuing a plea to readers asking for more subscribers, the Oxford American suspended operations in 2002. In 2003, it moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County), where it published four issues before ceasing publication again. It finally settled at the University of Central Arkansas in the fall of 2004, with Smirnoff remaining as editor. The magazine became a nonprofit publication and switched to a quarterly format.

The OA refers to itself as “The Southern Magazine of Good Writing.” As its submission guidelines note, “The Oxford American will consider only manuscripts that are from and/or about the South.” Many well-known writers have been published in its pages, including Grisham, Barry Hanna, Steve Martin, Roy Blount Jr., Billy Collins, Charles Bukowski, and Susan Sontag. Pieces originally published in the OA have been featured in Best American Sports Writing, Stories from the South, Best American Short Stories Anthologies, and O’Henry Prize Stories. In 2002, Hill Street Press published an anthology, Best of the Oxford American: Ten Years from the Southern Magazine of Good Writing, which includes many of these award-winning pieces.

In 2008, the University of Arkansas Press published The Oxford American Book of Great Music Writing.

Financial troubles hit again in 2009 when the Internal Revenue Service began pressing for back-taxes totaling $57,000. These taxes had gone unpaid due to a former office manager pretending to pay the bills but instead stealing the money for herself. In response to these troubles, Warwick Sabin, then UCA’s associate vice president for communications, took over as publisher.

In July 2012, Smirnoff and managing editor Carol Ann Fitzgerald were fired by the OA board amid allegations of sexual harassment and other improprieties. In September 2012, Texas native Roger Hodge, who edited Harper’s magazine from 2006 to 2010, was named editor-in-chief, and he served in that position until May 2015. In October 2015, Little Rock native Eliza Borné was named the new editor-in-chief. The following year, the Oxford American won a National Magazine Award in the “General Excellence, Literature, Science, and Politics” category.

In late 2011, the Oxford American signed a lease on a building in downtown Little Rock with the aim of developing an institution that would collaborate with other local arts organizations. In addition to housing the magazine’s business offices, in 2013 this location at 1300 Main Street began serving as a popular location for events in the literary and music community, as the building also included the South on Main restaurant and performance venue; it closed in the early 2020s. The magazine published its one hundredth issue in the spring of 2018.

In January 2021, the magazine relocated its editorial offices back to the UCA campus. In March 2021, Borné announced that she was stepping down from her role as editor-in-chief. Danielle A. Jackson became the magazine’s next editor, and also the first African American to serve in that role.

In 2023, the magazine was awarded a Whiting Literary Magazine Prize, with the judges’ citation stating: “Oxford American is our most adventurous and authoritative window on the South, pushing beyond headlines to deliver a textured, ever-evolving portrait of its cultural wealth. Drawn in by eye-catching art direction and dazzling editorial letters, readers stay to savor the unique weave of the journalistic with habit-forming fiction and vivid travel writing. A generous intellectual hospitality serves the magazine’s Southern neighbors and a broad national readership all at once. Oxford American is a spring of innovation, honoring tradition while forging something new.”

For additional information:
Bingham, Shawn Chandler. “Bohemian Groves, Grooves, Gardens, and Guns: The Hybrid Worlds of Bohemian and Bourgeoisie Southern Magazines.” In The Bohemian South: Creating Countercultures from Poe to Punk, edited by Shawn Chandler Bingham and Lindsey A. Freeman. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017.

Clancy, Sean. “Not Fading Away.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 28, 2017, pp. 1E, 6E.

———. “Stories of the Souths.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 20, 2022, pp. 1E, 4E. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2022/mar/20/stories-of-the-souths/ (accessed September 13, 2023).

Garner, Dwight. “It Was the New Yorker with Hot Sauce.” New York Times, December 4, 2012, p. C1. Online at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/04/books/oxford-american-hail-to-literary-magazines-past-and-future.html?_r=0 (accessed September 13, 2023).

Hale-Shelton, Debra. “Debt Recurring Plot at Oxford American.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, January 8, 2012, pp. 1B, 3B.

Oxford American. http://www.oxfordamerican.org/ (accessed September 13, 2023).

Willoughby, Vanessa. “Introducing the New Editor of the Oxford American: Danielle A. Jackson.” Lithub, July 29, 2021. https://lithub.com/introducing-the-new-editor-of-the-oxford-american-danielle-a-jackson/ (accessed September 13, 2023).

C. L. Bledsoe
Ghoti magazine


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