"I'd like to think that independent publishers and editors have helped provide electronic literature with the spring board it needed to reach the position it now seems poised to attain ..."

A Letter from the Editor

It seems hard to believe, as this issue of Riding the Meridian goes "live online", that I have been publishing literary work on the Web for over five years. I am struck by how much has changed, from the browsers, plug-ins and code available to web writers and artists to the speed at which we can now zip this information round the globe.

As a publisher and editor, I currently find that I have to ask myself a not unimportant question: in a time when writers and artists can reach their audiences directly without the intervention of an editor or a publisher, what IS the role an editor and publisher can play in the evolving field of web literary arts?

As a practioner, I can plug my name into Google or one of the other excellent open source search engines and find hundreds of links to work I've created for viewing on the Web. Increasingly, when I check the web stats for Meridian, I see particular authors' names reflected in the search criteria. A whole new generation of web writers, linked by bytes rather than age, race or creed, has matured on the Web, nutured by newsgroups, list-servs like that run by SUNY-Buffalo and by online "collectives" with membership as diverse as Webartery.

So what does publication in Meridian offer to a writer/artist beyond that gained by placing the work on their own server and cataloguing it with several search engines? I'd like to think that part of the role of the editor continues to be to provide a critical frame for work being produced at any given time. The Web can so quickly become a wash of interlinked experiences, providing context can be key, and the buzz words that have attached themselves to our medium lead to a need for more critical evaluation.

Building an audience is another role I believe on-line publications help serve. Web statistics imply that the two hardest things for a web site to achieve are repeat visits and what commercial operatives call "stickiness". But literary magazines are amazingly sticky little things; our audience tends to return, recommend, link to as well as query us as to when new material will be available.

Further, I can tell by the listings Meridian has gained in various university curricula that the magazine is serving an increasing number of educators as a concise introduction to 21st century literary efforts. Digital literature is slowly gaining proponents in the field of literary study who are learning they don't need to distrust the Web as much as they may have previously thought.

I'd like to think that independent publishers and editors have helped provide electronic literature with the spring board it needed to reach the position it now seems poised to attain. And, I've always been stuck by something William Slaughter said in a Mudlark editorial, about poetry being a gift-economy. As some of us wrestle with Netscape 6's refusal to render DHTML, wonder if Flash will continue its current predominance or we'll be left with the equivalent of a batch of files that will only play on an Amiga (hey, I've still got Deluxe Paint -- the first program that allowed me to export Flash-like animated text/visuals in the mid-eighties), the fact remains that what I believe to be one of the most important assets of the Web continues to exist: the work that went into this publication, and the works within it, are a collective gift from the writers, artists and editors, to you. We hope you enjoy unwrapping it.

Jennifer Ley, December 5, 2000

[the work] [diner] [dialogue] [theory & practice] [opportunities] [archives] Volume Two, # Two 1999 - 2000