Founded in 1958 as a faculty and student magazine, TriQuarterly was reshaped in 1964 by Charles Newman as an innovative national publication aimed at a sophisticated and diverse literary readership. The physical aspect of many literary journals today derives from the creation of the TriQuarterly design in 1964. The journal was so named because its original form as a student magazine was published in each of the three quarters of Northwestern's academic year, and not in the fourth quarter, summer.
By publishing a combination of general issues and occasional special issues, such as for Vladimir Nabokov on his seventieth birthday; Prose for Borges; and The Little Magazine in America: A Modern Documentary History, TriQuarterly quickly became one of the most widely admired and important American literary journals.
On September 21, 2009, Northwestern University announced that it would transition the printed journal to an online publication and transfer the name TriQuarterly to a new student-edited electronic publication in 2010. The first online edition of TriQuarterly Online, Issue 138, continuing the numbered issue sequence to show continuity from the print edition, launched on July 5, 2010 at the website: Triquarterly.org.
The New York Times has called TriQuarterly "perhaps the preeminent journal for literary fiction" in America. The Times Literary Supplement (London) has said that TriQuarterly "fulfilled the classic function of the literary magazine in the twentieth century."Library Journal called TriQuarterly "the premier literary review currently being published."
TriQuarterly was among the first journals to publish Joyce Carol Oates, Ian McEwan and Amy Hempel. Works in TriQuarterly have consistently graced the pages of the annual Best American Poetry, Best American Short Story and Best American Essay anthologies, as well as the Best American Mystery Stories, New Stories from the South, and the Pushcart Prize and O. Henry Prize anthologies.