John Locher / AP
Thursday, March 30, 2017 | 9:27 a.m.
NEW YORK — A highly praised and proudly off-beat literary magazine, where contributors have ranged from Nick Hornby and Anne Carson to Leslie Jamison and Daniel Handler, is changing ownership.
The Believer, a San Francisco-based publication and five-time finalist for the National Magazine Award, has been purchased by the Black Mountain Institute at The University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The Believer was founded in 2003 by authors Vendela Vida, Ed Park and Heidi Julavits, with a commitment "to journalism and essays that are frequently very long, book reviews that are not necessarily timely, and interviews that are intimate, frank and also very long." It had been published by McSweeney's, the independent company run by Vida's husband, author Dave Eggers.
The Black Mountain Institute was established in 2006. It sponsors a wide range of programs, publications and fellowships, working with Nobel laureates Toni Morrison and Wole Soyinka, among others. The Believer will be edited by the institute's executive director, Joshua Wolf Shenk. Financial terms for the acquisition weren't disclosed. The Believer will continue to be released bi-monthly, and the first edition under Shenk's leadership is scheduled for Aug. 1.
"In any era, it's a challenge to make a paper magazine work, especially a literary and arts magazine like The Believer that, by design, takes few ads. In this digital moment, producing a paper-and-glue magazine is especially hard," Vida told The Associated Press in a recent email. She said The Believer has always been "break even at best," although its readership has been steady (around 5,600 subscribers) and its finances have "become more reasonable and stable."
"The Black Mountain Institute has resources that can sustain The Believer and help it thrive. To persist and grow, The Believer needs resources and an ambitious agenda, and Josh and the Black Mountain Institute have both."
Vida and Julavits will remain as consultants to the magazine. (Park left The Believer in 2011.) On April 21-22, Vida will be in Las Vegas and with Shenk will host "American Dreams: A Festival," presented by The Believer and the Black Mountain Institute and featuring Eggers, Carrie Brownstein and Miranda July among others.
Shenk told the AP that he was a longtime admirer of The Believer and called it "a perfect blend of alt and popular." He said he looked forward to working with Handler, Hornby and other longtime contributors, while seeking new talent and ideas.
"It's always been a space for emerging writers, and writers who want to do something weird and beautiful," he said. "I just ran into the poet Jamaal May, and I was asking him, 'What do you want to report on and come back with a dispatch?' I'd also like to find the modern Hunter Thompson, a real literary outlaw to cover (President Donald) Trump's Washington."