Knee-Jerk Magazine: The Subtext (Mega) Interview


Knee-Jerk, a new literary magazine in Chicago, was started in part by local writer Jon Fullmer. He excitedly explained the plan for the new publication to me back in early summer, and I remember taking note of the fact that Fullmer is not only well-aware that publishing has changed, but that he’s not concerned in the least– and seems nearly excited– with the task of navigating the currently barely-charted territory of the industry as it stands. That, coupled with Fullmer’s easy-going demeanor, gives the impression that, armed with a solid community foundation and carefully-built yet unbelievably, confidently flexible plans, Knee-Jerk is already on the road to success.
Amy Guth: Tell us about this new magazine.

Jon Fullmer: The purpose of Knee-Jerk is very
simple: to generate a community based on things most people enjoy. And as in any healthy community, we hope to stir
dialogues among our readers, and between our readers and writers. If we
aren’t getting people to talk to each other, or to laugh… then I’d say we aren’t
doing our job. I realize this sounds ambitious, and maybe not even
realistic, but that mentality is what drives us to continue doing what
we’re doing, what gives us hope for the magazine and the future of

We’re primarily interested in humorous or experimental prose, but
not so much in defining that prose otherwise. In other words, we won’t
necessarily try to distinguish between fiction and nonfiction, for
instance, because we believe art is art, and the pieces should speak
for themselves. In our first issue we have stories by Patrick Somerville, Billy Lombardo, Lindsay Hunter, Adam Drent, and Todd
, all currently Chicago writers.

Knee-Jerk also emphasizes the merging of the arts, and features interviews
with writers of various mediums
and a section called Briefs, where non-writerly artists can express themselves in an
artistic medium they don’t typically use. In the first issue we have
interviews with Mystery Science Theater 3000 writer Frank Conniff and
Jaimee Wriston Colbert. We also have a section called Reviews of
, where writers can review literally anything.

AG: What would you say is the one thing which makes Knee-Jerk unique?

JF: I’d say Knee-Jerk is different from other literary journals because of
its flexibility, its openness, and its mutability. Steve, Casey, and I
all come from different literary backgrounds, but we’re all aware of
one fact: that art evolves, and literature evolves. And our hope is
that Knee-Jerk will evolve with the times, or with our readers’
demands. There are many great literary journals out there–ones we
read, admire, and have modeled parts of Knee-Jerk after–but I’ve
noticed there isn’t a lot of flexibility among some of them. Not that
the work these journals are publishing isn’t good or exciting, but that
there isn’t a lot of variation from issue to issue in the style or

AG: How did you come to start Knee-Jerk?

JF: I’ve
wanted to start some sort of literary magazine for several years now, I
guess since I graduated from college. I moved to
Chicago a couple years ago to attend Columbia College’s MFA writing
, where I met Steve [Tartaglione] and Casey [C. James Bye], the other editors. All three of
us fell in love with Chicago’s literary scene–how there are so many
unique events going on all the time, and how the literary community is
so supportive of aspiring writers and new projects. The three
of us began talking about creating a magazine about a year ago, then
spent that year going to readings and trying to network with other
Chicago writers. When we felt like we had a strong enough basis of
connections and that our ideas were original we began compiling a list
of our resources: people we’ve met in town and at other schools and
writer’s residencies.

AG: What sort of things can we expect to see from Knee-Jerk in the near future?

JF: We
are very excited and honored to begin serializing Reality Hunger: A
Manifesto by David Shields
in August until the book comes out in
February. He’s tired of the same old boring novels that are being published
everywhere, and Reality Hunger is a call for writers to not only
reevaluate truth in literature, but also their reasons for writing in
the first place. He’s a New York Times bestselling author and was a
panelist for the 2007 National Book Award, so we’re proud that he’s
taking a chance with a small publication like ours.

AG: In your mind, what does success look like for Knee-Jerk?

JF: I’d love to see Knee-Jerk become one of the best resources for writers
first in the Chicago area, then hopefully be grouped together among
some of the better online journals across the country. So far,
considering the vast number of journals that are out there, I think
we’re off to a pretty good start.

Show Jon Fullmer & Co. a nice Subtext welcome at

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