We’re headed north! Our third stop on this road trip along the literary landscape lands us in Montana, Big Sky Country, the Last Best Place.
The Big Sky State is vast and sparse, dotted with rich cultural pockets you don’t see coming ‘til you’re there–and its literary scene is no different. Put these four lit mags on your map, set your eye to the horizon, and try to remember what wide open spaces feel like. However heavy and hazy the urban bustle becomes, Montana lit mags aren’t going to let us forget what it means to be a human walking this earth.
Want to write, but too worried about climate change to sit still and type? Enter: Camas, wrangler of the words of those dedicated to protecting and healing the land. Founded out of the University of Montana’s Environmental Studies Program, Camas does that thing we all want to do of humanize the environmental crisis so that people take better care of the planet, but does so in a striking and steady (rather than hyper and politicizing) fashion. It’s a mission-driven literary publication with environmental goals in sight, but those goals don’t distract from its ability to collect some of the most top-notch fiction, poetry, and essays in the West. In doing so its become a stronghold for artists and activists who, challenging writers of climate dystopias to calm down and breath life into the world around them in the here and now. It’s also, like the state it’s from, straight up gorgeous. It’s a win-win: people go to Montana to get space, and Camas exists to keep that kind of space alive.
True to its name, Cutbank lives on the edge: long considered the highest-ranking of the middle tier lit mag scene or a lower member of the highest tier publications, Cutbank can rub elbows with any ol’ copy of Paris Review you’ve got laying around, and do so with a better swagger. I don’t have hard data on this but anecdotally it’s one of the titles most listed in “Best of” anthology author bios. It’s been around not quite 50 years (it wouldn’t be totally off base to think of Cutbank as that cool older friend you have who manages to have both the kid you want and the life you want), and you can expect it to keep ramping up well through it’s half-decade-aversary: their expanded online features and annual contests just keep getting more and better. These are the guys you should trust to publish your chapbook, so finish it up already and submit.
Montana’s most “normal” lit mag keeps it simple with one submission guideline only: keep it excellent. It’s hard to find a more purely run publication in this part of the country. Whitefish Review is named after the town its founded in, offers one $1000-prize contest a year, and has a no-frills approach to being online (try getting lost on their website, I dare you). They don’t need to tweet author interviews or publish audio files, they simply want more good writing to get into the hands of more people. Like its aforementioned Montana lit mag siblings, it’s got an environmental vibe, but one that’s baked into the published content rather than hashed out in the marketing or surrounding chatter. Bonus: for those with a side hustle in photography or painting, Whitefish Review sports 16 pages of color printing reserved for art on art on art.
New to the scene and the collaborative effort of a few fast-acting Montana females, this mostly-online publication will print copies on-demand should the desire for pages turning in your fingertips arise. Their 2,000 word limit rolls its eyes at anyone still trying to submit a 20-page workshop story and flirts with online readers just outside the literary sphere. Content is king and Montana Mouthful manages to blend the line between tweet-size outrage and sock-you-in-the-gut short story: “Your words, though few, must carry tension,” their editors demand. Possibly related to said tension: sneak a submission in to their “Romance Gone Wrong” contest by December 15 to make the most of any relationship-related holiday blues.