AGNI was founded in 1972 by Askold Melnyczuk. He was then an undergraduate at Antioch College, with his own vision of a magazine for a new generation of writers and visual artists.
Eric Hoffman, an associate editor at the time, described those days:
The first issue was printed on a printing press in the middle of the night with the two of us running it.
Askold took the printing class just so that we could gain access to the press. We spent most of the time trying to back Askold’s hair out of the press after it was caught in the rollers. Later issues were printed by the Antioch Bookplate Company.
More than eighty-five issues have appeared since, in a history spanning five decades. Since 2003, AGNI has published new work online also—as much each year as in the two annual print issues.
The magazine moved to New Jersey in 1974 and then to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Sharon Dunn joined Melnyczuk as co-editor in 1977. From 1980 to 1987 Dunn took the helm solo, first in Cambridge, then for three years in western Massachusetts. In the fall 1987 Melnyczuk resumed the editorship, and AGNI became part of Boston University. In July 2002 Sven Birkerts became the third person to lead the journal, and when William Pierce joined him as senior editor in 2004, the magazine moved into its current home, the former offices of The Partisan Review on 236 Bay State Road. Birkerts and Pierce became coeditors in 2019.
Today AGNI comprises a large, engaged roster of editors, writers, curators, interns, ambassadors, advisors, and friends.
As in the beginning, our deepest commitment is to finding and fostering new talents, but a historical statement would be incomplete without mention of the seven AGNI writers who have gone on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature: Seamus Heaney (the 1995 laureate); Derek Walcott (1992); Wisława Szymborska (1996); J. M. G. Le Clezio (2008); Tomas Tranströmer (2011); Patrick Modiano (2014), whom AGNI was the first to publish in English; and Louise Glück (2020). Two other winners of the Nobel also appeared in the magazine during their lifetimes, after winning the prize: Odysseas Elytis (1979) and Joseph Brodsky (1987).
We are now publishing writers you may not have heard of, who will go on to win the next generation of awards.