4x4, Quarto, The Eye, the Blue and White, the Columbia Review—if that seems excessive to you, you're not alone. Many Ivy League schools have only one undergraduate literary journal, but Columbia has, in the best sense of the word, a plethora. Not all of them are exclusively literary, but they all publish poetry and fiction.
Is there a reason for it? The Columbia Review, founded in 1815 as the Literary Monthly, is the oldest literary magazine in the nation. Before settling on its current name in 1932, it was known briefly as The Morningside. Unlike 4x4 and Quarto, the Review accepts submissions from anyone, anywhere, including writers from abroad. According to Dennis Zhou, CC '16 and an editor of the Review, "It's a way of connecting our campus to literary production on a large scale—a national and international scale."
Quarto was founded in 1948. It is the official magazine of the Undergraduate Creative Writing Program, which also provides its funding. They take submissions from all four undergraduate schools.
In reference to funding, Antoine Karsenty, CC '17 and an editor-in-chief of Quarto, joked, "You learn pretty quickly that getting anything out of the Columbia administration is impossible."
Emily Burns, CC '17 and Quarto's other editor-in-chief, said of their relationship with the department, "It just means that we're not officially a student group, but we are sort of under the umbrella of the department, so we help to put on some of their events."
4x4 was founded in 2013, over apparent disagreement between the board of Quarto and the Undergraduate Creative Writing Program over the direction of the magazine, and even whether it should accept submissions from undergraduates outside of the department. It is now an independently run student organization, and doesn't receive any funding from Columbia. While one might expect a rivalry between the two organizations, the editors of both journals reject this expectation.
"It was right for them to go their separate ways, and there's no animosity or anything between them," said Serena Solin, CC '16 and an editor-in-chief of 4x4.
"There's people looking in from the outside that look at it and see that there are three large magazines on top of, you know, other, more special-interest magazines, and don't really get why that is and assume that there are tensions," Burns said.
"The people who started 4x4 split off from [Quarto] because they wanted to be more open, and they did a Kickstarter to independently raise funds," Zhou said, providing an outsider's perspective. "I don't think there's bad blood."
Now 4x4 has its own aesthetic and goals, separate from Quarto. Its website advertises the publication as a literary collective. "We're committed to doing what feels right for us in a year—we focus a ton on events, and also we're interested in getting people involved who aren't in Creative Writing or English. We think of ourselves as a group that works throughout the year, rather than just picking the 15 best works that we get," Solin explained.
Each magazine has its own niche within the writing community. The Columbia Review is differentiated by its wider array of contributors, Quarto by its close relationship with the Undergraduate Creative Writing Program, and 4x4 by its active outreach to writers in the community and more formalistically experimental content.
And why would the Blue and White, which is primarily a news publication, choose to include poetry and fiction in such a saturated market?
"I think we're very selective about what literature we include. …And because of that, the decision to include fiction is done with a lot of intention," said Daniel Stone, CC '16 and the spring 2015 editor-in-chief of the Blue and White. "We don't take submissions, generally, for fiction. Fiction's something that you generally pitch and work with. The only thing that we take submissions for are poems." The Blue and White rarely publishes fiction or poetry, and when it does, Stone said, "it reflects the spirit of the magazine."
Stone suggested that competition may be a positive side effect of the proliferation of literary magazines. "I think competition is good—I think competition drives people to be better. I don't know if that's how literary publications think of themselves, but I know that when I was a part of a news organization, that was very much how we thought of ourselves," Stone said.
However, if you ask the editors why there are so many publications, they all give similar reasons: different readerships, different niches, different purposes. According to all the editors, there is room for readers, writers, and board members to enjoy all of them.
"I don't find it to be a competitive relationship at all; every magazine that's on campus is on campus for a reason. They try and do something different, or try to fulfill some niche or readership that other magazines don't," Zhou said.
"It's too difficult to be done by one publication—if it was done by one publication, it wouldn't be done well," Karsenty said.
"4x4 might be looking at slightly different kinds of writing than we're looking at, but ultimately both of those writers should be published and should have an outlet," Burns added.
Solin pointed out, "A major thing about all three magazines is that you can't publish your own work in the magazine if you're on the board. The boards on all three are a large percentage of the creative writing students, so we all publish each other's work—the Review will publish some of our work, and we'll publish theirs."
The Columbia community is diverse, and the different magazines reflect that. They keep each other competitive and serve different niches. The Undergraduate Creative Writing Program, while small, is similarly diverse, and having so many outlets is undoubtedly a benefit.
"Although there are a lot of literary magazines, they really aren't all doing the same thing. They have distinct things—for us, that's our relationship with the Creative Writing department. For the Columbia Review, it's that they publish non-Columbia students. We're all doing something slightly different, but helping to foster one community rather than several," Burns said.