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Creating a Literary Home for Older Women

April 27, 2007

Older women writers are often at the height of their creative abilities, but for us to appreciate their work, we need to have access to it. Our youth-oriented society fails to validate, much less venerate, the talent and skill of women oversixty.  Many end up struggling to receive the exposure they deserve, even if they’ve succeeded in the past. Unknown writers have little chance of being published. In the summer of 2006, after hearing many discouraging stories from older women writers and artists, I began to dream about creating a literary magazine that would showcase their creativity. Its primary audience would be older women—but I thought that younger people would be interested, too. When I began to budget the project, I soon discovered that production costs for a print magazine had soared since my days as a magazine publisher in the eighties. They were now prohibitive, at least for me. The magazine would have to be published online. I had no experience in Internet publishing, but as I investigated the literary magazines already online, my excitement grew. The magazines ranged from scruffy to polished and crude to cutting-edge. It seemed that anything was possible here. But would older women readers be open to this form of publishing? Reading a magazine online was a leap from curling up on the couch with a good book. However, recent research shows that older women as a group are a ripe market for Internet promotion because they’ve become technologically competent. If there was a period of adjustment for some readers, I figured they’d rise to the challenge. Next I needed to find the right name for the magazine—and something easy to remember, given the audience we hoped to reach. I made lists of possibilities without success, but one afternoon I glanced over at the persimmon tree in my neighbor’s garden. I had always loved this tree with its brilliant autumn foliage and the succulent orange fruit that stays on its branches after the leaves fall off. Persimmon Tree was just the image I wanted. In December 2006 our team of older women contributing editors came together. Committed to a launch in four months, we had to work fast. We reached out to well-known women writers over sixty, asking them to be on a list of advisors to the magazine. Having their endorsement would bring us credibility. Mills College agreed to an association with us, and this, too, would help us in marketing the magazine in the months ahead. Turning to the task of designing the magazine so that it would appeal to our target audience, we opted for simplicity. The bold orange of persimmons became our background color, showing up on every page, and our font was easily readable. Our website was simple to navigate, without the distraction of competing elements. The instructions for viewing the articles, stories, and poetry in PDF were clear so that women with poor vision could read the magazine in larger print. Free of the constraint of paying for paper and production, we wondered how much material to include in each issue. Less was better, we decided. We didn’t want to overwhelm our readers. If the content was manageable, readers would have the satisfaction of finishing the whole magazine. A final matter concerned us: Should we require readers to subscribe to the magazine?  Subscribing would be free, but it might turn off some because it was an extra step. On the other hand, if we had a list of subscribers we’d know who they were, where they live, and most importantly, we’d be able to contact them when the next issue came online. We decided to take the risk. Persimmon Tree was launched at Mills College on March 15, 2007, when Gloria Steinem was on campus. It was a grand day. After speaking about the magazine to a large crowd, the homepage website was projected onto a mammoth screen. At first people didn’t know what to do, and the room was silent. Then they loudly began to clap.