When Scott Silsbe announced he was undertaking the transformation of The New Yinzer, a friend replied, "I've heard of The New Yinzer. But what the hell is it?"
Lots of Pittsburghers are confused about The New Yinzer's identity, says Silsbe, the new editor of the local literary enterprise. In 2002, it was founded as an online publication by University of Pittsburgh graduate student Jennifer Meccariello, and it soon expanded to become a literary journal as well as a reading series, radio show and book publisher before Meccariello pulled the plug in 2005.
Silsbe, a 28-year-old Detroit native and 2004 graduate of Pitt's master of fine arts program, is relaunching the online version (www.newyinzer.com) this month with fellow editors Kristofer Collins and Ellie Gumlock.
Part of the problem with the old New Yinzer is that it had too many definitions, says Collins, 32. "We want there to be no confusion as to what The New Yinzer is ... an online journal," he says. According to its brand-new Web site, "The New Yinzer is an online journal which questions, develops and embodies the newly emergent identity of Pittsburgh by way of literary discourse."
Collins, Gumlock and Silsbe say their inspiration stems from contemporary publications such as The Believer and N+1, as well as the 1940s- and 1950s-era New Yorker itself. But even more, the editors are inspired by the city of Pittsburgh.
"This city presents a real opportunity for artists at this stage in its development," says Silsbe, who by day manages the warehouse of Oakland's Caliban Books. "We all know what an 'old yinzer' is. Our magazine explores what it means to be a new yinzer ... what it means to be a young, artistically minded person in Pittsburgh ... to be here on purpose."
"Pittsburgh is on a fault line [between the old and the new]," says Collins, a Highland Park native and another Caliban employee. "New yinzers are people who are going to identify and have an effect on what this city eventually becomes."
Still, Gumlock, a 31-year-old New Jersey native, notes that she doesn't want the content "to feel regionally bound." Like The New Yorker, The New Yinzer is a publication based in a specific city, but featuring work about whatever subjects moves its editors and writers.
Appropriately enough, the New Yinzer's new issue deals heavily with identity. While its content comes mostly from its three editors, the plan is to find more writers, both staff and freelance, to contribute to each new issue.
Collins, who writes occasional book reviews for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, pens a column called "Gatsby's Bar," about all things literary. Its name, he says, is "based on my misremembering the title of a June Carter Cash song ["Gatsby's Restaurant"], a fun little ditty about riding horses in bars."
Silsbe, who also contributes to the Oakland, Calif.-based The Kitchen Sink, profiles Pollock's Café, a bar in Bloomfield. Gumlock, a stay-at-home mom, contributes a thoughtful introduction to a piece by 36-year-old Pittsburgh native Tereneh Mosley, about the experience of studying fashion design in Nairobi, Kenya, as a black American. The new issue also features three poems and a short story.
Eventually, say the editors of the (new) New Yinzer, they hope to expand into print media. But for now the focus is on honing the Web site. Plans call for a new online issue every two months or so. "We're on more of a five-year than a one-year plan," says Gumlock.
"People should know that this The New Yinzer is an opportunity," Collins says, "something to get involved with rather than just submit to."