Literary treasures buried in vintage teen magazines
Before there was Instagram, before Tumblr, and even before the ’90s-era of ‘zines, there was Sassy, Mademoiselle, Seventeen and a bunch of other magazines that served as bibles for the teenage experience. And buried in some of those issues, nestled somewhere between beauty advice and embarrassing make-out stories, were the works of some pretty iconic writers, who were just kicking off their prolific careers. So we decided to do a deep-dive into the vintage teen magazine archives to find some of the earliest works by famous authors. Their articles aren’t just a testament to the fact that everyone had to start somewhere, they’re also just really fun to read. Check it out:
That’s right. Before Truman Capote gifted us with the goddess Holly Golightly and made us all dream of donning pearls, nibbling on pastries and gazing in the windows of Tiffany’s, his writing first appeared in Mademoiselle. In fact, his short story Miriam in the June, 1945 issue of Mademoiselle was his first published piece. Ever. Aaaaand it went on to win the O. Henry Award for Best First-Published Story.
Miriam is stylish and lovely, and definitely hints at the genius that was to come from Capote’s later work. With its beautiful snowy imagery, it’s also the perfect story to read on a cold, winter night:
It snowed all week. Wheels and footsteps moved soundlessly on the street, as if the business of living continued secretly behind a pale but impenetrable curtain. In the falling quiet there was no sky or earth, only snow lifting in the wind, frosting the window glass, chilling the rooms, deadening and hushing the city.
Snuggle under a blanket and read the rest of Miriam here.
Joyce Carol Oates
Yes, you heard me—Joyce Carol Oates. We’re talking about the same Joyce Carol Oates who has written over forty novels, has taught creative writing at Princeton since 1978 and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize not once, not twice, but three times. NBD (times three). This giant in the world of literature found her humble beginnings in Mademoiselle. Her story, In the Old World, won Mademoiselle’s “college short story” contest when Oates was only nineteen years old, and it was featured in this 1959 issue of the magazine:
Is that a kilt? How very Outlander.
In the World was simply gorgeous:
Swan was gazing at the man. The deputy’s voice came to him out of the dim and faintly heavy air of the room, warm, more than warm, in a manner that seemed to him familiar, as though this had all happened once before, or perhaps he had only dreamed it—but if he had dreamed it, it was much more carefully, with more detail than the manner in which it was really happening now; that was the way of all dreams.
Oh, to have written like that at such a young age! That in itself is the way of dreams. You can read the full text of In the Old World here.
The author of In Her Shoes and a bunch of other amazing bestsellers actually got her start in Seventeen magazine where her first story Tour of Duty was published in 1992. The story follows a mother and daughter on a road trip to look at colleges when their conversation veers into parental secrets.
She drew another shaking breath, let it out slowly and said what she hadn’t let herself say for days since Hal had told her. ‘It’s just that your father is moving out.’ For a moment the two of them stood silently, looking at each other, posed like swimmers at the end of the pool, holding on to the concrete ledge, readying themselves for the turn. In the distance, Marion could hear the staccato rhythms of a campus tour, the gunshot of the guide’s high heels along the slate path, the rhythm of questions and answers. You can find the full stories in her collection, The Guy Not Taken.
J. D. Salinger
Before J. D. Salinger wrote about Holden Caulfield, the original hipster, he wrote about A Young Girl in 1941 with No Waist At All. Yes, the title is admittedly cringeworthy. But the story, which first appeared in Mademoiselle in May, 1947, is classic Salinger:
It was a little after four in the morning. At one o’clock the port side deck steward had set up some of his deck chairs to accommodate the nondissipating crowd who would, a few hours later, use the post-breakfast sunshine. There are many things you can do in a deck chair: eat hot hors d’oeuvres when a man passes with them on a tray, read a magazine or a book, show snapshots of your grandchildren, knit, worry about money, worry about a man, worry about a woman, get seasick, watch the girls on their way to the swimming pool, watch for flying fish…But two people in the deck chairs, drawn however closely together, can’t kiss each other very comfortably.
It would be years before he penned The Catcher in the Rye, but Salinger’s voice was already taking shape. You can read the story in its entirety here.
The author of 13 YA novels, including Paranoid Park, which was later adapted into a film by Gus Van Sant, has Sassy Magazine to thank for his illustrious career. Nelson got his first big break with his then-unpublished first novel Girl was serialized in the pages of Sassy Magazine. The response from readers was so enthusiastic he landed his first book deal.
“After I saw Todd Sparrow something deep inside me began to change. It was not a big change and I didn’t shave my head and I didn’t really think any differently about my life or Hillside or anything like that. But one glimpse of Todd and you immediately realized how limited you were and all the things you could do if you could just break out of your normal existence and stop worrying about what everyone thought.” Read the finished product here.
Sylvia Plath reigns supreme as the literary queen of vintage teen magazines. Not only did she have multiple poems and stories in both Seventeen and Mademoiselle, but she also travelled to New York for a summer to work as a guest editor for the latter. Sound familiar? Probably, because her time in the Big Apple became the basis for her sublime novel that we all know and love, The Bell Jar. While in New York, she worked on this 1953 issue of Mademoiselle:
Another kilt. Interesting.
Also pretty fascinating…Plath submitted to Seventeen forty-four times before they accepted one of her stories. Forty-four! Props for perseverance, girlfriend! Her first published piece in the magazine, a short story called And Summer Will Never Come Again, appeared in the August, 1950 issue. With her rejection streak finally broken, Sylvia went on a roll. Her poem Ode to a Bitten Plum appeared in Seventeen just three months later, and she became a regular on their pages.
Seeing Plath’s poetry here makes me wish that I’d saved the issue of Seventeen with my letter about Princess Diana. Granted, it was no literary masterpiece. By any means. And I’m no Sylvia Plath. Or Joyce Carol Oates. But what these magazines say to me is that life and language and literature are full of surprises.
And a girl can always dream.