The idea for Boston’s most prominent literary magazine, Ploughshares, was born in another local institution: a Cambridge pub called The Plough and Stars. Now a bar and music venue, The Plough and Stars was founded in 1969 and named for a work by the Irish playwright Seán O’Casey. It quickly gained a reputation as a gathering place for writers, radicals, and intellectuals, claiming the patronage of figures such as Seamus Heaney, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Philip Roth. In 1971, one of the owners, Peter O’Malley, and Harvard student DeWitt Henry formed Ploughshares, so named for the pub, Plough and Stars, and for the cutting edge of a plow (the plowshare). The first issue was published in September of the same year.
Ploughshares is unique in its rotating roster of editors; as the founders knew that they could never agree on a consistent “voice” for the magazine, each issue was to be edited by a different literary figure. Over the years, this has included Tim O’Brien, Seamus Heaney, Raymond Carver, and Tobias Wolff. In 1989, Ploughshares became affiliated with Emerson College, where it currently resides. The journal has had two Editors-in-Chief since DeWitt Henry: Don Lee and Ladette Randolph.
Today, Ploughshares is one of the most esteemed literary journals in the world, with frequent contributions to The Best American Short Stories and The Pushcart Prize Anthology. It is known for publishing some of the earliest works of Sherman Alexie, Russell Banks, Raymond Carver, John Irving, and David Foster Wallace. Other notable contributors have included Lydia Davis, Jennifer Egan, Louise Glück, Amy Hempel, Toni Morrison, Haruki Murakami, Alice Munro, Joyce Carol Oates, ZZ Packer, Grace Paley, and Annie Proulx.