This double issue centers on our third collection of Summer Fiction, complete with a cover intended to evoke that hot-weather perennial, the picnic blanket. (The cover design, this month and every month, is the work of COMMENTARY publisher Carol Moskot, who serves double-duty as art director.)
This year we are offering up four stories we hope you will read at your leisure through the two months before our September issue appears. There are works by two writers familiar to COMMENTARY readers: John J. Clayton, making his 10th appearance in the magazine in the past nine years, and Kelly Cherry, whose first story for us, “Covenant,” appeared in May 1971. But I want to draw your particular attention to the stories by Fernanda Moore and Zachary Watterson. Moore’s beautifully observed study of quotidian family life, “The Tomb of Hunting and Fishing,” is her first published work of fiction. Watterson’s indelible portrait of a resourceful young refugee, “At Your Last Gasp,” is his first appearance in a general-interest magazine. These are very different stories. But they both pulsate with the special energy that comes uniquely from a distinctive new voice.
There are few things more exciting for an editor than to cultivate and sponsor new writers. And there are few things more important to the lifeblood of a magazine. I assumed the editorship of COMMENTARY in January 2009, which makes this the 39th issue published under my stewardship. Over that time, we have published debut fiction by seven writers. Among them: Linda Chavez, who is best known for her work on civil rights and immigration issues, astonished us with her maiden story, “Afterbirth” (May 2011), about two women fighting to survive in a North Korean labor camp. Hannah Brown’s “The Pimstein Affair” (July 2009) dealt with themes she has now explored at full length in her deeply moving first novel, If I Could Tell You. (We did not introduce the world to the work of Karl Taro Greenfeld, but three stories he published in COMMENTARY between 2009 and 2011 form the spine of his dazzling new novel, Triburbia.)
Our editorial efforts to find new writers, and to publish writers who might be new to COMMENTARY readers, are not confined to the area of fiction. In this issue you will find Michael W. Schwartz’s fascinating account of the heretofore unknown role played in the American Revolution by the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz, and Joseph Polak’s heartbreaking Holocaust memoir, “The Last Witness.” The musicologist Robert L. Marshall appears in our pages for the first time with “Redeeming the St. John Passion.”
In the past six months we have featured other writers who introduced themselves to our readers with articles of genuine significance. Ben Cohen’s “The Big Lie Returns” was the February cover story (his second, “Attacking Israel Online,” is in this issue). Bill Gertz, the veteran defense correspondent, told us about China’s high-tech military threat in April’s cover piece. Henry R. Nau’s “The Jigsaw Puzzle and the Chess Board” was our lead feature in May. And last month, Mitchell D. Silber asked, “Who Will Defend the Defenders?” in his article about the media defamation of the New York Police Department.
The integration of new perspectives with more familiar ones—from Joseph Epstein to Bret Stephens, whose “Born on the Fourth of June” in this issue is a thrilling and original addition to his corpus—is a key part of our effort, 11 times a year, to present you with an issue of COMMENTARY that is fresh, vivid, and teeming with life.