How McSweeney’s Became a Literary Institution

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When the Harry Ransom Center comes calling for your archives, it is pretty safe to say that you’ve become a figure of major cultural significance. The library, archive, and museum at the University of Texas houses 36 million literary manuscripts, one million rare books, five million photographs, and more than 100,000 works of art, including the First Folio of William Shakespeare’s plays, the Cardigan manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, as well as the manuscript collections of James Joyce, T. E. Lawrence, D. H. Lawrence, Norman Mailer, Anne Sexton, Don DeLillo, Graham Greene, Brian Moore, David Foster Wallace, and many others. As of last week, McSweeney’s, the publishing company founded by Dave Eggers in 1998, added their name to that list of notables, as the Ransom Center announced it had acquired the publisher’s archive of book manuscripts, essays, and short stories; correspondence drawn from the publishing house’s work with hundreds of writers; and its award-winning design materials.

McSweeney’s inclusion in the Center’s archives cements the publisher as an institution, and one that has had a huge influence on the literary world for well over a decade now, that continues to this day. Here are a few of the reasons why.

Dave Eggers

Let’s face it: not many publishers can claim as their founder a bestselling, Pulitzer Prize/National Book Critics Circle Award finalist who still churns out good books. When you have a writer like Eggers at the top of your company, it can only mean good things.

A roster of amazing authors

McSweeney’s has put out books by the likes of Lydia Davis, Michael Chabon, Stephen Elliott, Nick Hornby, and Sheila Heti, as well as a George Saunders book for kids, a seven-volume treatise on the subject of violence by William T. Vollmann, and many others.

Location

McSweeney’s is based out of San Francisco, far away from most of the the big publishing houses of New York, and various universities across the country that have so much influence on what we read. In other words, they’re outside the East Coast feedback loop, which gives them more freedom to do their own thing.

The Believer is the best (almost) monthly literary magazine around

The Paris Review, n+1, and Tin House are all wonderful places to read about literature and absorb great cultural critique, but they’re all quarterly magazines. The Believer puts out nine issues a year, and all of them are worth reading.

The McSweeney’s aesthetic

There is a particular look, energy, and feel to things put out under the McSweeney’s umbrella: the Charles Burns artwork, the beautiful colors of The Believer or the more sparsely designed covers for the quarterly McSweeney’s journal, and the impression that the people behind these projects truly enjoy what they’re doing are just of a few of the things that set McSweeney’s-related projects apart from everything else.

A great non-fiction list

You can’t simply publish literary fiction and expect your bills to get paid. Thankfully, McSweeney’s realizes this, and they’ve published a bunch of great non-fiction by the likes of Miranda July, T Cooper, and musicians like Beck and David Byrne. And then there is our personal favorite, the beautiful, brilliant, and possibly unintentionally hilarious All Known Metal Bands, which is exactly what it sounds like.

McSweeney’s Internet Tendency is the 21st-century Internet version of the National Lampoon.

Who else is publishing brilliant humor pieces on a daily basis ? Find me something better than “Raymond Carver’s OKCupid Profile, Edited by Gordon Lish,” and I’ll consider your suggestion.

They ply us with delicious food

There are food magazines, and then there’s Lucky Peach. While we will gladly leaf through a literary magazine, it is really hard to not fall in love with a beautiful quarterly foodie bible that’s created by David Chang, and fits perfectly in with the rest of the McSweeney’s family of publications.

The Grantland connection

There is so much garbage sports writing out there, which makes McSweeney’s collaboration with Bill Simmons to publish the Grantland Quarterly collection of the ESPN site’s best stuff the perfect alternative.