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Celebrated literary mag The Believer back to original owner

May 16, 2022 Updated Mon., May 16, 2022 at 7:14 p.m.

By Hillel Italie AP National Writer

NEW YORK – After a journey even the creative minds at the Believer could not have imagined, the celebrated literary magazine is back in business and again being run by the company that first owned it.

Founded in 2003 by the writers Heidi Julavits, Ed Park and Vendela Vida, the Believer has published works by Leslie Jamison, Anne Carson, Nick Hornby and many others and has received multiple nominations for National Magazine Awards.

But starting in 2017, the magazine owned by the independent publisher based in San Francisco, McSweeney’s, endured a series of upheavals that included financial struggles, an editor in chief leaving amidst allegations he exposed himself and the sale to a digital marketing company that at one point included an article – the subject of much internet anger – titled “25 Best Hookup Sites for Flings, New Trysts, and Casual Dating” on the Believer’s website.

As of Monday, thanks to three private donations and a “drastically reduced” asking price, McSweeney’s has repurchased the magazine from Paradise Media and its CEO Ian Moe.

“It takes enormous courage to do what Ian’s done in reconsidering his initial purchase of the magazine,” Amanda Uhle, McSweeney’s publisher and executive director, said in a statement. “When Ian understood the immeasurable gift he’d be providing generations of readers and writers by making this change, he was quick to roll up his sleeves with us and work out a reasonable and agreeable way for us to move forward.”

Moe said in a statement that he joined “all of those who expressed their desire this past week to see The Believer remain in print, and everyone here at Paradise Media agreed that the best way to make that a reality is to return the magazine to the place where it began its journey.”

Changes at the Believer began five years ago when McSweeney’s sold it to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), during a “financially challenging time,” as McSweeney’s acknowledged Monday. But the magazine faced new and unexpected troubles. Editor-in-chief Joshua Wolf Shenk left in 2020 while facing allegations of sexual harassment, including exposing himself during a Zoom meeting. In October 2021, UNLV announced it would no longer publish the Believer, citing a “strategic realignment” tied to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Believer (www.thebeliever.net) is luckier than many literary magazines, but not entirely in the clear. McSweeney’s is a non-profit; operations for the Believer need to be rebuilt and the subscription base renewed. On Monday, McSweeney’s announced a Kickstarter campaign.

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