In February 1979, I wrote an article for The Washington Post’s Metro section on what I regarded as a near miracle: The Washington Monthly, under the leadership of Charlie Peters, had lasted a full decade, during which time “many better-funded, better-read periodicals have come and gone.”
Having myself run an alternative weekly that lasted a mere three years, that decade seemed like an astonishing feat—one inspired and guided, as Monthly readers know, by its founder and tutelary spirit.
To call Peters eccentric, I admitted, would have been an understatement. Who else, in a mere 10 years, would produce journalism that challenged so many sacred beliefs? Consider just a few of the stories he published: “Abolish Social Security,” “Cancel the National Debt,” “The Case for Nuclear War,” “The Case Against Day Care,” and “Nuclear Hijacking: Now Within the Grasp of Any Bright Lunatic.” Charlie might have been a country boy from West Virginia, but he sure had chutzpah.
Two years ago, we celebrated a feat that was far beyond my 29-year-old imagination when I wrote the Post story: TheMonthly turned 50 years old. And during that time, the magazine has continued to publish reporting that is by turns brilliant, insightful, surprising, and sometimes (let’s face it) annoying—we’re not afraid to tell our readers what they don’t want to hear.
Peters, who turned 95 this week, continues as its tutelary spirit (we live in fear of displeasing or, worse, boring him), but what once seemed an impossible task—replacing him—has now been accomplished. Paul Glastris has been editor for two decades, and the Monthly continues its tradition of reporting and analysis that readers can’t find anywhere else. Those who have worked with Paul can testify that he also continues the Peters tradition of hands-on editing, of a kind that writers rarely find elsewhere.
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The Monthly has also been a training ground for brilliant young journalists who are willing to be underpaid, overworked, and aggressively edited. The familiar names are so familiar that I won’t recite them here. The Monthly continues to hire, train, and graduate young writers who will be the familiar names when the Monthly celebrates its 100th anniversary.
I myself can claim Monthly heritage. I was the publication’s first and only fiction editor from 1977 to 1978. Having a fiction editor seemed like a good idea at the time. Having read James Thurber’s The Years With Ross and Walter Jackson Bate’s Samuel Johnson, I was clear in my mind that a great magazine should publish fiction and belles-lettres as well as exposés and thought pieces. Alas, a year of solicitation did finally produce one memorable piece of fiction in its pages—an excerpt from The House of God by Samuel Shem, a hilarious depiction of hospital bureaucracies that remains in print today. (“Any doctor I know read House of God and was transformed by it,” Dr. Sanjay Gupta once wrote.) But it turned out that the supply of fiction for a small political magazine on a par with “The Case for Nuclear War” was more limited than we had hoped, and so I departed the masthead. (I have returned, decades later, in the more fruitful role of legal affairs editor.)
The point of that story is that the Monthly wasn’t afraid to try for greatness even if it meant falling on its face. And we’re still not afraid to take risks, or do things out of the ordinary, or question the conventional wisdom. We’re a small magazine, and we pride ourselves on consistently punching above our weight.
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If you’ve read this far, you undoubtedly have your own favorites—and you also no doubt know about the Monthly’s revolutionary college rankings, which challenge the dominant educational hierarchies by daring to suggest that colleges should be judged on how well they serve the public and their students rather than on the size of their endowment or the exclusivity of their admissions offices.
But the Monthly has only made it this far because of a lot of effort and a lot of help from people like you. Even now, more than half a century after its birth, each decade of survival remains a breathtaking achievement. We need your support as we push not only to survive but to thrive.
As a nonprofit, we cannot do our work without your support. Plus, as a token of our gratitude, if you give $50 or more, you’ll receive a free one-year subscription to the print edition of the Washington Monthly.
Indeed, as this horrible year draws to a close, we hope that you will remember the Monthly in your giving decisions. After all, if we falter in our support for this indispensable American institution, where will future readers go when they want to read the case for nuclear war?