Friday, May 13, 2011


I’d like to put in a plug for a monthly print magazine I’ve been subscribing to for a couple of years and have been contributing essays to for the past year. Black Lamb, published monthly from San Leandro, California, has a tabloid format. It’s printed on good offset paper and is elegantly designed. It is illustrated with clip-art and well-chosen photographs. It carries no advertising, but stays alive on the strength of subscriptions. A year’s subscription costs $15, which, given the quality of the writing, may be the best bargain you’ll find these days in print periodical literature.

I was introduced to this fine rag by my friend Toby Tompkins, a highly talented writer. Toby’s essays—wise, witty, peppered with laughs and rants and fine storytelling—are worth the price of the magazine, but he’s only one of a stable of worthy wordsmiths associated with Black Lamb. One regular contributor lives in Milan, one is a mortician, one is a violin player, one or two are novelists, one is a former prison inmate, one is wandering around Turkey, and so on.

Black Lamb is edited by Terry Ross. I’ve never met Terry in person, but I consider him a fount of literary lore. He fills his magazine with literary history, gossip, and plugs. He and I have swapped recommendations for favorite books; from him I learned of The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, by Gerald Basil Edwards, and The Book of Bebb, by Frederick Buechner, both giant doorstop novels, and both of which I recommend emphatically. Terry is a gentle editor, an encourager of good writing, a genuine, generous man of letters. (I confess that it also gives me pleasure to reflect that I have an editor named Mr. Ross. So did James Thurber and Dorothy Parker, once upon a time.)

Every other issue of Black Lamb is a “theme issue.” Since I’ve been contributing essays to the magazine, I’ve written on subjects I might otherwise have bypassed: Crime, School, Food, Men, Women, Turning Points, Family, and a couple of Book Reviews.

Most of my articles for the magazine are about turning points (in fact most narrative writing, I believe, is about turning points). As a teacher of autobiography and memoir writing, I’ve preached the value of finding the moments of story in our lives, and Terry Ross and Black Lamb have given me a reason to practice what I preach.

Other regular writers provide essays about politics (some of them inflammatory, from both sides of the aisle), humor, food, horseback riding, travel, death (one regular column is titled “All Men are Cremated Equal”), and profiles of past celebrities. There is an annual (summer) issue devoted to book reviews. Regular monthly features include a word puzzle, a literary quiz, a literary sampler, a list of literary giants born in that month, a bridge column, an advice column, and a recipe for lamb.

At the beginning of this post I made it clear that Black Lamb is a print publication. Thank goodness for that, say I, who still enjoy reading a magazine in an armchair, and on paper. But to learn more about this fine publication, you also can visit its website and get a sample of what it offers:

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