Writing breathes life into the defunct

Photo by Tom Jorgensen.

Remember the vitality of the VCR? The jolting jingle of a wind-up alarm clock? The importance of wonderful handwriting, or when chalkboards were essential teaching tools?

Defunct Magazine remembers these things, taking readers back to the contemporary times of objects, ideas, TV shows, and belief systems of the past. Founded by a team of University of Iowa writers, the new online magazine is published at www.defunctmag.com/Defunct.

Robin Hemley, director of the UI Nonfiction Writing Program and a professor of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, along with 15 graduate students, established the biannual publication. It features essays by students on the magazine’s staff, along with work by established authors and contributions from the public.

“Anything that has had its day in society is fair game to write about,” Hemley says. “Defunct religions, cultures, technologies, games, fads, trends, and people are all subjects of focus in this publication.”

The concept developed last fall, after Hemley assigned graduate students to review defunct literary publications. Reading the reviews proved entertaining for the group. One evening after class, they tossed around the idea of starting their own literary magazine. They intended to focus on defunct products, but the idea evolved to include all things defunct—trends, fads, cultures.

Pieces in Defunct Magazine are written as reviews that take a position on the item or idea without assigning a score. Hemley said the content shares a common tone of irony and poignant humor.

“One thing I don’t want is for our pieces to focus on nostalgia,” Hemley says. “I don’t want to see, ‘Oh wouldn’t it be nice to drive Studebakers again.’ These writings are smart, witty, funny, and insightful. Nostalgia will find its way in somehow, but I don’t want that to be the central focus.”

Defunct Magazine’s stances on topics of the past are expansive and entertaining. Some conclusions contributors reached: how Jheri Curl hairstyles foil everything; how the Internet has incapacitated the traveling encyclopedia salesmen; and how leaf blowers are wrecking all lawn rakes in its wake.

“These writings are smart, witty, funny, and insightful. Nostalgia will find its way in somehow, but I don’t want that to be the central focus.”

—Robin Hemley

Amy Butcher, graduate student in the UI Nonfiction Writing Program and the magazine’s managing editor, said submissions are increasing weekly and that feedback from readers has been positive.

“People really like it. Although it is kind of a niche market, people have embraced the magazine’s focus,” Butcher says. “I never thought we would publish as many people as we have.”

Nearly 15 previously published authors have appeared in the first two issues of Defunct Magazine, and a recent blog appearance in the Atlantic is expected to fuel interest in the magazine.

“Really great published authors and fantastically skilled Iowa students are showing strong interests in what we are doing,” says UI Nonfiction Writing Program graduate student Rachel Yoder, the magazine’s senior editor. “I don’t see us becoming defunct anytime soon.”

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