"Move over old dog, cause the new dog's coming in" -- Hank Williams
The old dogs of the literary community had better watch their
tails, one of the new dogs from cyberspace is set to challenge them on
their own turf. Though only in existence for a little more than a year,
CrossConnect (http://tech1.dccs.upenn.edu/~xconnect) has
established itself as one of the premier literary (electronic maga)zines
on the World Wide Web. Now, as if cyberspace hadn't caused enough
consternation among the print literati, Xconnect is preparing a print
anthology, featuring some of the best writers on the Web.
And, the irony of the situation isn't wasted on the bright and
energetic young editors of Xconnect. The very thought brings smiles to their
faces, and if they were dogs, no doubt there'd be a lot of tail wagging
going on, too. It may well be that their timing is perfect.
While the rapidly growing literary community on the Internet has
been eagerly awaiting the impending arrival of the big dogs of the print
establishment online, many of those dogs are just now being pulled by
their leashes into cyberspace, biting and scratching in resistance. In
April of 1996, a group of Nobel Prize winning poets were arguing that
"serious verse" belonged in books, not in cyberspace, in spite of a
survey which showed that only 1% of Americans read poetry today. Some
might argue that this elitist attitude is, in fact, one reason for the
steep decline in apparent interest in "serious" literature in general.
But, the trend has also been accelerated by other factors.
Skyrocketing printing costs, combined with diminishing federal
dollars for libraries, universities, and the arts in general, have driven
many established print journals even further into the false "safety" of
exclusion. It is a cold, hard fact that, no matter how well a newcomer
might write, without name recognition and/or credentials and a patron on
the inside, their work has little chance of even getting a serious
reading. And many formerly prestigious college presses have ceased to
publish any "new" poetry or fiction; their listings now consist of
previously published works, some of it thirty or more years old. Is it
any wonder, then, that so many aspiring writers have left those stagnant
pools in search of a flowing river of opportunity and ideas?
CrossConnect is a perfect example of how and why that trend is
being reversed in cyberspace.
Consider the background of the three founding editors of
Xconnect. Just a few years ago, the chief editor was a teppanyaki chef
(one of those chefs at Benihannas who slice and dice right at your
table); another of the founding editors was a Bryn Mawr dropout; and the
third was still in high school, a young fencing athlete.
The guru and drivng force behind CrossConnect is David Edward
Deifer. Born in Korea in 1962, Dave grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Before settling in Philadelphia, he was a teppanyaki chef, and a sushi
chef, travelling from Allentown to Wilmington to Fort Lauderdale. He
left the food industry to attend technical school, first becoming an
aerospace engineer, and then moving on to the position of Senior Network
Specialist and on-again off-again Wharton student at the University of
Pennsylvania. But through it all, there was poetry in David Deifer's soul.
In 1993, with one year to go, Leah Sheppard dropped out of Bryn
Mawr College and got a job at Penn with the Data Communications and
Computing Services (DCCS). "Shazaam," she says, "transform the starving French
major into a full-time computer specialist." A preacher's kid from
Kentucky, Leah became what she calls "an unabashed geek-punk cable
gURL." In 1994 she moved to Dave's department at Penn.
She and Dave quickly discovered their mutual interest in
writing. As beginning writers, they began to browse the Web, learning
which journals and zines they wanted to submit to. The more they
learned, the more convinced they became that they could start one themselves.
Dave engaged the assistance of his tech school friend Michael
Dettinger, a native of Philadelphia, recent graduate of Wharton, and a
fellow engineer at Penn. Dettinger, a "total computer geek," took the
time to help Deifer learn HTML and the Web. And while Dave cruised the
poetry newsgroup (rec.arts.poetry) and various zines, gathering
contributors, he recruited Cliff Robinson, another operations technician
at Penn, for a different task. Cliff located an inoperable old dec3100
computer gathering dust under a desk, hooked it up and brought it back to
life. Leah set it up as a Web server, and Mike helped her to format the
Hoping to gain approval and support from the University, Dave
looked around and found an ally in Al Filreis, Chairman of Undergraduate
English at Penn. Filreis is a pioneer in the use of the Internet in
education, using Web pages and Listservs as part of his classes, even
teaching one class entirely on the Net. He is also a great advocate for
Penn's developing writing community. Filreis helped with easing the
connections between CrossConnect and the academic community. And,
equally as important, he directed Dave to a bright and energetic young
undergraduate by the name of Alex Edelman.
Alex is from Los Angeles, where he "used to drive around on balmy
LA nights, looking for a clue." He was recruited to Penn for his talents
in the sport of fencing, and in his time at Penn he has accrued such
honors as NCAA All-American, two-time All-Ivy and two-time Academic
All-Ivy. By his own description, he is an "excitable, cynical, opinioned
old man at the tender age of 20," who is working on his undergraduate
English Literature degree. A "poetic commando," like Dave and Leah, Alex
combines skills in arts, writing and literature, with technological
competence, and an eye for design. His brash, uncompromising demand for
excellence, dauntless enthusiasm, and unbounding energy added a vital
link to this crossconnection of innovators. Dave recognized this, and
afforded Alex the opportunity to put his talents and creativity to work,
as an editor with CrossConnect.
The most that this improbable crew might have expected from an
established print journal, would have been the opportunity to "hang
around" as interns. Yet, with little experience or resources, they
managed to put the first issue of CrossConnect online in early 1995.
And, in the year since, owing to their hard work and the cooperation of
many others, Xconnect has become a very fine literary journal, by any
standard one cares to apply. They have accomplished this feat, both by
seeking out talented writers and artists, and by welcoming those who
searched them out. That openness, sense of adventure, and the
willingness to take chances has ignited a firestorm of creativity and
However, David Deifer's vision and ambition didn't stop there.
His ultimate goal was to truly "crossconnect," marrying the Web to print,
joining traditional printed literature with the technology of the
future. "I have dreamed this dream every day of my waking life. I am on
a mission to break through the web of the information age."
In moving toward that goal, CrossConnect has lived up to its
name, in a way possible only on the net, by gathering together a diverse
group of writers and publishers from such disparate locales as Chicago,
Charlottesville, and Birmingham.
Among the first on board was Marek Lugowski of Chicago. He is a
veteran of rec.arts.poems and the priest(The Spirit on This Here Mountain)
of the newsgroup, very opinionated and occasionally a flamethrower. "I am not really wild," he
says. "It's just that cutting words and polemic are more visible and
memorable on the Net." Marek is an editor for A Small Garlic Press,
which produces chapbooks for poets who work primarily online, and for the
innovative poetry zine, Agnieszka's Dowry. He has lent his own works, and
has helped to search out other talented writers to contribute to
Another natural alliance was with Doug Lawson, founding editor of
Blue Penny Quarterly, the longest running electronic journal to focus
exclusively on literary work. Doug is an emerging writer with a growing
list of credits, who also works for Metronetic Publications in
Charlottesville, Virginia, helping with the production of a variety of
online publications. BPQ's staff also includes poetry editor Leigh
Palmer, contributing editor Robert Sward, and contributions from such
well-known authors as Edward Falco.
Recently joining this eclectic band is Tom Harper, author, and
editor of Red Mountain Review out of Birmingham, Alabama. He brings with
him the support of Mary Veazey, editor and publisher of Sticks Press, and
the shared contributions of such authors and poets as Helen Norris,
Georgette Perry, Charles Ghigna and Robert McDuff.
These are some of the folks the big dogs of literature will find
themselves in competition with as they come online. Among the big dogs
already, and in some cases reluctantly, on the Web, are The Paris Review,
The Literary Review, Ploughshares, and The New Yorker.
Asked about competing online, Walt Cummins, editor of The
Literary Review, commented: "I'm not sure the big dogs, little dogs
concept holds for the Web at present... A better analogy might be to say
we're all puppies scrambling for a teat to nurse on. Eventually, some
will grow up to be big dogs and others end up in the pound. (I'd better
stop before I get to euthanasia.)... I'd better stop and get back to
Regardless of how one looks at it, the accessibility and vitality
of publishing on the net can only enliven and stimulate interest in
literature as a whole.
And, those old dogs coming onto the net, besides watching out for
the bite of the eagerly awaiting new dogs, had better be prepared to
defend their comfortable beds back at home. Because, Dave Deifer's dream
is due to come true this summer, when CrossConnect will publish its first
print edition. This substantial volume of more than 200 pages, will
include both short stories and poetry, full-color printing, and will have
a first-run circulation of 1,000 copies, distributed in bookstores
nationally. Its publication represents Dave's aim at nothing less than
the next step in the evolution of American literature.