Black Clock, the new literary journal published by CalArts, launches this month with enough heavyweights to collapse newsstand shelves: David Foster Wallace, Bruce Bauman, Nicholas Royle, Heidi Julavits, Rick Moody, Aimee Bender, Joanna Scott and Jonathan Lethem, in the first issue alone. Edited by Steve Erickson, a CalArts faculty member and arguably one of the most definitive L.A. writers of the last 20 years, Black Clock is fairly akin to Conjunctions, the East Coast journal edited by Bradford Morrow (who contributes to B.C.’s debut issue). Conjunctions brought national attention to Bard College’s MFA writing program, where Erickson himself was a writer-in-residence last March; and with national distribution and bicoastal launch parties in Los Angeles and New York, CalArts hopes to do the same with Black Clock. Yet ask many of Black Clock’s writers about the magazine, and they profess to know absolutely nothing.

The cloak of mystery extends to the magazine’s cover: an enigmatic Hockneyesque photo showing the amorphous shadow of a palm tree. “The mystery is sort of conscious,” admits Erickson, who says he sequenced the stories in the first issue as though they were “the chapters of a strange novel.” Bookended by two Arielle Greenberg poems, it begins with Peter Gadol’s account of the Nazis closing the Bauhaus design school — a proxy for a later creative community writhing in the closing fist of a repressive new regime.

The second and third issues of Black Clock are already near completion — impressive considering Erickson hasn’t helmed a literary magazine since he was a student at UCLA in the early ’70s. Black Clock No. 2, due in September, actually has a theme of sorts, which Erickson describes as “writers writing about music that never happened except in their imagination.”

Despite his audacious literary vision, Erickson says, “This is not my magazine.” He seems embarrassed at its title, which refers to his 1989 novel, Tours of the Black Clock. “It was my idea, and when I tried to take it back, [CalArts] wouldn’t let me,” he says rather sheepishly. “I went home to my wife, and she said, ‘What kind of egomaniac are you?’ And since my wife is always telling me I’m not nearly self-promotional enough, I got alarmed. But I was stuck with it.”

Black Clock’s reliance on literary “stars” will change over time, Erickson says. Starting around the third or fourth issue — make-or-break time for such ventures — he plans to include students from CalArts’ MFA writing program, which over the last 10 years has gotten its act together enough to be seriously competitive with those at Irvine or Stanford. “I would like to think that this magazine will reflect a bit of a West Coast sensibility, and if you ask me the logical next question of what that is, I’m not sure I know at all,” says Erickson. “But I kind of know when I see it.”

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