MR bills itself as "A Quarterly of Literature, the Arts, and Public Affairs." A key early focus was on civil rights as well as African-American history and culture; the Review published, among many others, Gwendolyn Brooks, Sterling A. Brown, Lucille Clifton, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Martin Luther King, Jr.. Sidney Kaplan, a founder of the Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, was a founding member of MR as well; Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, also a founder of Afro-American Studies at UMass, continues to serve as a Contributing Editor. In 1969, co-editor Jules Chametzky and Kaplan put together a collection of essays from the first ten years of MR; Julius Lester, in the New York Times, called Black and White in American Culture "a rare anthology [...] with a higher degree of relevance than almost any other book of its kind."
The magazine awards the Anne Halley Poetry prize to the best poem it published yearly; it also awards the Jules Chametzky Prize for Translation each year, alternating between its prose and poetry translations.
^Julius Lester, New York Times, March 29, 1970. Jules Chametzky and Sidney Kaplan, Eds., Black and White in American Culture: An Anthology from the Massachusetts Review. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Amherst Press, 1969