The Story Behind The Book

Looking at the urgency of family stories

DAVID WILSON for the Boston Globe

For the second issue of his literary journal, Freeman’s, editor John Freeman had intended to focus on humor. He quickly learned, he said, that “you can’t ask people to be funny in writing, especially the funny people.”

But there were some gems. “The only funny stuff that came out of it was the family stuff,” Freeman said. “So I kept that and turned the theme into family. And I was really glad that I did that, because everybody has a family story.”

With essays, short stories, and poems by writers as varied as Aleksandar Hemon, Garnette Cadogan, Valeria Luiselli, and Helen Garner, the issue is strikingly international. “I did make a special effort not to make this a North American family issue,” Freeman said. “When we start to read, we read about underwater sea creatures and places far away,” he said. “And yet somehow, when we become adults, we tend to read about people more like us. I don’t think that has to be that way.”


“I think the things that possess us — whether it’s grief or love or family life — have many different shapes, but they’re familiar in unexpected ways,” added Freeman.

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A longtime book critic and editor of Granta before launching his journal in 2015, Freeman said that he wanted his publication to feel like a book that anybody could read. “I think that literary journals tend to be a slightly elitist form, more interested in that curatorial aspect of contemporary letters than in simply transporting a reader, and that’s something I hope that this journal does,” he said. “I want contributors who tell stories.” And while he has nothing against online publications, he feels that “the act of putting it into paper, and making a durable object that’s hopefully beautiful, honors the urgency of the story. I think a lot of readers really like something on paper.”

Claire Messud (“The Woman Upstairs”), a Freeman’s contributor, will join Freeman to discuss the issue at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Harvard Book Store.

Kate Tuttle, an editor and writer, can be reached at