May 6, 2015

Literary magazine Rhapsody offers a different kind of mile-high club


rhapsody-mag-cover-image-304At first I’d wondered if I should be embarrassed that I’d never heard of the literary magazine Rhapsody: it’s published pieces by Anthony Doerr and Emily St. John Mandel and Joyce Carol Oates and Emma Straub; it’s been out for a year-and-a-half; its offices are just around the corner from ours in DUMBO, in the same building as n+1. But it’s also only available in the first- and business-class cabins on United Airlines.

So that cleared things up a bit.

The New York Times reports that in addition to champagne and private little sleeping bunkers and whatever else they have in those first few rows of airplanes, these more extravagantly-ticketed passengers can also enjoy “loftier, more cerebral” offerings than their economy-class counterparts.

It is a win-win situation: Mark Krolick, United Airlines’ managing director of marketing and product placement says “the quality of the writing in Rhapsody brings a patina of sophistication to its first-class service, along with other opulent touches like mood lighting, soft music, and a branded scent,” while Sean Manning, the magazine’s executive editor suggests that authors now have an opportunity to reach “this untapped audience” of “luxury travelers.”

There is, of course, a catch. While writers are paid well and offered some travel perks, certain unpleasant topics remain off limits–no tales of travel disaster and nothing “too risqué.” “We’re not going to have someone write about joining the mile-high club,” said Rhapsody’s editor in chief, Jordan Heller. Alas. But, he went on, “despite those restrictions, we’ve managed to come up with a lot of high-minded literary content.”

Karen Russell, for example, had initially pitched a story that involved chaperoning a group of teenagers to Europe, a delayed flight, and a plane full of increasingly drunken passengers (not the teenagers, I don’t think), and Rhapsody “very diplomatically suggested that maybe people want to read something that casts air travel in a more positive light.” She wound up writing about the first time she flew on an airplane instead. So did Joyce Carol Oates.

Manning told the New York Times that “Rhapsody was conceived from the start as a place for literary novelists to write with voice and style.” I suppose I’ll have to take his word for it. And so, too, will some of the magazine’s contributors: Elissa Schappell, who wrote a piece for their inaugural issue, said, “I would love it if I could read it . . . But I never fly first class.”


Taylor Sperry is a former Melville House editor.