Literary magazines are fragile creatures. They come and go. Some last barely longer than the average butterfly, and many venerable institutions are only ever one bad month away from folding like an origami stepladder. When a small literary magazine shuts its doors, it often disappears so thoroughly that you might wonder if it ever existed at all.
Which is a shame, because each defunct lit mag represents hundreds of hours of work and commitment – both from the editor and the writers featured. Each lost publication is another voice that will no longer be broadcast – another unique vision that will no longer be there for the world to see.
To redress this, we’ll occasionally be memorialising literary journals that bit the dust. This week, an obscure but beautiful little gem: Stranger Box.
Stranger Box was a brief candle, even by literary magazine standards. The last Internet Archive capture (from 2006 – just a couple of years after the invention of Facebook) shows that only three full issues were published, each one featuring half-a-dozen stories and poems, as well as some beautiful and haunting illustrations. Images aside, the site was fairly stark – the content was presented in a single narrow column with no adornments or wasted energy. It was an art gallery of a lit mag.
The magazine also had a seriously strong grip on tone. The submissions guidelines spelled out its mission: “I’m looking for offbeat writing, preferably on the dark side, with a general theme of what Kierkegaard called ‘fear and trembling;’ in other words, the natural sense of dread that comes with knowing our own impermanence.”
And, indeed, the featured pieces did seem all to point towards an apprehension that everything was temporary, that the world was – however slowly or strangely – grinding to an end. Despair and dread permeated the narratives on offer. There were derelict houses falling to pieces, lovers losing minds, and widespread literary death and destruction. You can still browse a couple of online issues using the Internet Archive – we recommend “The Door At The Edge Of The World” and “The Clifford Olsen Murder Poems” – if, that is, you can find them in the broken remains of the archived pages.
It was rare, back in 2006, to find an online magazine with such a clear sense of purpose and such a rich, nuanced flavour. Stranger Box knew exactly what it was, and what it wanted to be. It paid for the work it published at a time when few online journals did, and presented its words cleanly and beautifully. It’s a shame it didn’t last – but, then again, for a magazine that’s all about the inevitability of decay, perhaps an ending was always on the cards.