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Ten literary apps to make writing more than words on a page

Because the Appstore holds more possibilities than just Tinder

Is it really publishing if it’s all digital? Some pedants would say no, but literature has proven adaptable and even suited to our mobile lives – and it’s not just blogs and online magazines. Apps, interactive poetry, interactive criticism, and live collaborations are all options that have been afforded to art by the Internet; while hypertext fiction was a short-lived flail into experimental form, now app development and coding seem to have caught up with the complexities of story-telling. Below are our picks for ten virtual projects that make writing feel like much more than words on a page.


The literary little brother of the lyric-elucidating forum Rap Genius, Poetry Genius is collective close reading, a bit like Wikipedia if Wikipedia were run by undergraduate English majors. Both verified authors and regular users can add annotations to texts that range from Mrs. Dalloway to Melissa Broder, offering open-access to the kind of analysis often relegated to seminar tables.


Penguin developed this ‘amplified edition’ of the Beat fave in 2011 and updated to a new version late last year. Scholars, editors and the Kerouac estate collaborated to put together this collection of journal entries, clips of Kerouac (and other famous writers talking about him), novel draft reproductions and tributes, and the result is a holistic look into a piece of art that no single printed object could offer. 


Developed by Berlin-based communication design studio VERBALVISUAL, Pico’s poetry debut looks good, sounds good, is good. It comes in the form of a ch-appbook – which he says is one of the first of its kind – and creates a reading experience that is both immersive and digestible; you can downright ‘explore’ the virtual realm of the text or pick and choose portions for your lunch-time queuing. Pico’s poetry (about American Indian identity, queer identity, and you-know-which hook-up app from which the collection takes its name) is embedded into collages by Cat Glennon and supplemented with audio versions of each piece.


‘Digitizing literature means democratizing short fiction’ reads the about page for Connu, an app/online literary journal dedicated to curating good stuff worth reading from the masses of text on the Internet and writers’ desktops. Established writers like Joyce Carol Oates and Lydia Davis have been among those recommending up-and-comers featured by the app.


Writer/director Jason Edward Lewis uses his work to examine fundamental concepts like naming, origins, aging, learning, identity – i.e., what existence is made of – while incorporating interactivity. Presented like exhibitions in an art gallery, Lewis’s poetry manipulates the way the reader/viewer engages with it through ‘exciting’ the medium through which it’s conveyed.


Berlin-based book making/publishing/publicising/etc agency The Curved House publishes an online anthology of writer/artist collaborations that come to fruition in the heat of the moment: writers are given an image and instructed to respond with up to 500 words within the time limit of one hour. The results shine a light on the creative process under pressure and showcase how different minds respond to the same stimulus.


App development is often about the cynical securing of big-deal VC funding, but going digital is also a way to involve the underdog: Poejazzi highlights diverse and often under-represented spoken-word poets through audio-visual material that aims to integrate poetry into users’ everyday lives.


Like jilted lovers, critics of meta-fiction cite game playing as one of the main problems with the form. But there’s a difference between being played and being invited to participate. Swedish developer Simogo’s beautifully designed interactive narrative experiences exist somewhere between hypertext, video games and virtual reality, but many, like Device 6, also offer emotional depth and complexity that integrate technological entertainment and high art.


Developed by Appoet – the people behind What We Mean, a blackout poetry/love letter chapbook project by J.A. Fisher – Infused Magazine is populist publishing with a local lens; users publish GPS-enabled missives, photography, art, or otherwise-creative endeavors as inspiration strikes them, and the material is organised by ‘hotspot’ and all accessible from your mobile phone, etc. 


The online magazine originally dedicated to nonfiction #longreads offers the software they use to craft an elegant e-reading experience (online, in their app, and for fiction and nonfiction) for anyone to try, but their mainstay is a dedication to balancing good, old-fashioned narrative with new ways of presenting it. In March, they launched their first book, the sci-fi novella Sleep Donation by Karen Russell, in typically crisp fashion.