Culture / Newsy

The Southwest Review Made a Lit Mag Feel Like a Party — Now It’s Throwing One in Dallas

How One of the Nation's Oldest and Most Prestigious Literary Magazines Got Its Groove Back on SMU's Campus

BY // 02.29.24

Did you know that one of the nation’s most prestigious literary magazines is housed in the heart of Dallas? It sounds like a scrapped Lana Del Rey song title, but it’s true. Over a century ago, in a flashy town ruled by sports and big business, the third-oldest literary quarterly in the country began publishing on SMU’s campus. The Southwest Review went on to feature famous contributors such as Tennessee Williams, Anne Carson, Arthur Miller, and Joyce Carol Oates, along with words from Texas legends like Stanley Marcus and Lady Bird Johnson. 

But in 2015, as the lit mag was celebrating its 100th anniversary, there was concern for its future. Southwest Review’s longtime editor-in-chief Willard Spiegelman, ​​then the Hughes Professor of English at SMU, was preparing to retire. D Magazine published a feature on the fate of the literary jewel that year. 

“The internet has roiled the old systems of publishing and distribution, upending the retail model on which the magazine relied for a chunk of its income. And the internet is changing the way we read as well,” Ben Fountain (author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk) wrote in D Magazine. “[Spiegelman’s] successor will have to adapt the Review to this new world.” 

SMU professor Greg Brownderville, editor-in-chief of the Southwest Review
SMU professor Greg Brownderville, editor-in-chief of the Southwest Review.

Enter Greg Brownderville. Shortly after joining SMU’s English Department, the young poet and professor was tapped to succeed Spiegleman and bring the Southwest Review into the digital age. He enlisted award-winning Austin designer Julie Savasky to reimagine the look of the magazine. Then, in 2018, he launched with beautiful, vibrant graphics and new columns on music, film, and even the NBA (albeit, a somewhat literary take on the sport). 

“The world of literary magazines can feel super serious,” shares Brownderville. “Part of what we were trying to do with the revamp is create a fun, inviting atmosphere for the literature to thrive in. Come for the music column then realize you actually like literature.”

As they ramped up the more digitally-savvy Review, Brownderville and deputy editor Robert Rea began thinking of the magazine as a party, where musicians, filmmakers, comics artists, and writers could all be in conversation. This April, during Dallas Arts Month, that “party” becomes literal.

SwR 106.1 FINAL Cover 3.3.21
A recent cover of Southwest Review magazine, based on SMU’s campus in Dallas, Texas. (courtesy)

Introducing the Frontera Festival 

Announced earlier this month, Frontera is a brand-new Dallas arts festival from the Southwest Review, featuring two days of literature, music, comics, and film in the Bishop Arts District — all of which will be free and open to the public.

“The SMU English Department has been wonderfully supportive,” Brownderville notes. “A lot of English Departments probably wouldn’t want to support something like this — something suspiciously too fun out there in Bishop Arts. But they saw the vision and how cool it could be.” 

Once they had SMU’s backing, they began contracting notable writers, bands, and artists with ease. “We had no problems lining up a really good roster,” adds Brownderville. 

Leading the lineup is Barry Gifford, an American author and screenwriter whose latest film projects are set to star Jeremy Allen White, Willem Defoe, and Pedro Pascal. The writer’s rare appearance includes a screening of Wild At Heart (the 1990 David Lynch film inspired by Gifford’s novel of the same name) and a conversation with the Review’s film columnist. 

Also earning top Frontera billing are Mexico City band Belafonte Sensacional, punk group Bass Drum of Death, and the Hernandez brothers (aka Los Bros), the trio behind the beloved indie comic series Love and Rockets. “Despite getting offers from Marvel and DC they’ve stayed Indie all this time,” Brownderville notes of the three graphic novelists.  

Much like the Southwest Review, which regularly translates Spanish-written literature, Frontera will highlight a collection of talented Latin American writers, including Sylvia Georgina Astrada,  Julián Herbert, and Luis Jorge Boone. 

Frontera will take place on Friday, April 12, and Saturday, April 13, at the Texas Theatre, the Kessler Theater, and Wild Detectives. A complete schedule will be announced closer to the festival.