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Finding inspiration for birthday presents can cause a considerable amount of anxiety even for long-time friends who should know each others’ tastes intimately. One idea is to give the gift of words. I recently received a wonderful birthday present: a subscription to the literary magazine The Coffin Factory. I have always been a devoted reader of non-fiction, especially biographies, travelogues and psychology tomes. My motivation for reading fiction has ebbed and flowed over the years. As a young girl, I devoured science fiction novels such as The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451, A Brave New World, and anything that involved space exploration. Sandwiched in between science fiction novels and non-fiction has been a variety of poetry, modern fiction and children’s fantasy (my favorite works include the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling and His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman). Both authors are from the U.K, which seems to offer a rich ground for imaginative writing.

It has only been recently in my reading life that I discovered the gems inside literary magazines, some only publishing three times a year. In fact, the literary magazine I received as a present is new; its first issue was published in 2011. The editors Randy Rosenthal and Laura Isaacman, graduates of MFA programs and residents of NYC, decided to publish a literary magazine that, in their words, “serves as a nexus between readers, writers, and the book publishing industry.” When asked about the inspiration for the title (a strange and incongruous one for a magazine about art and writing), the authors play coy. “We think it far more interesting to hear what other people think,” answered the editors in an interview. Whatever the impetus for the title, one thing is clear: the quality of the art and writing in the magazine is excellent. Work from celebrated essayist and novelist Joyce Carol Oates appeared in the third issue of this year. Another famous contributor is James Franco, who not only has acting talent but is a graduate of an MFA program in Creative Writing from Brooklyn College. His piece was a post-modern collection of critiques of an episode of Three’s Company. What sets this lit. magazine apart from others I have read in the last few years is its variety. Interviews appear beside a poem about childhood; oil on panel art featuring 1930s-reminicent women with bright flowers in their hair are interspersed throughout the magazine as are black-and-white photographs. Short stories only two pages long appear beside more lengthy pieces.

Reading a literary magazine is a fast way to find writers and artists I would normally not find in the mainstream media. Another benefit of subscribing to these kinds of publications is knowing that I am supporting new writers trying to make inroads into the publishing industry, a sometimes random and unforgiving world. I will continue to read The Coffin Factory, at least until my subscription runs out, and then maybe I’ll just offer a subscription to a friend when a birthday or holiday looms near.–Erin Dougherty, August 7th, 2012.