Eight questions for Renée Olson

The long reach of UMagazinology extends to Madison, New Jersey to tap the shoulder of Renée Olson, bearer of a sexy accent aigu and Chief Editorial Drewid at Drew Magazine.

How long have you been in your job?

Three and a half years.

What has proven to be the most significant thing you had to learn to do that job?

To loosen up and not be so ploddingly literal about content. In my ancient past, I was the editor-in-chief of School Library Journal, a combination of the nation’s largest children’s book review and a trade magazine for librarians who work with children. At SLJ, we were primarily in the business of putting out news and information, but at Drew, I’m creating a reflection of the university that relies much more on shared experiences and bonding. It calls for a more refined—and infinitely more imaginative—approach to chasing both text and images.

What has been your best experience at the magazine?

Redoing the magazine from top to bottom starting in 2007, and subsequently hearing the phrase, “I read it cover to cover.”

What has proven to be your biggest frustration?

This is a frustration, but also an opportunity: Imagining how to get the fullness and richness of a magazine to happen online when the gestalt there is still about atomizing content and letting it fall where it may. How does my magazine, minus the staples, shift to an environment that isn’t yet about wholeness and depth? At the same time, I’m totally psyched to have a platform that allows for audio and video.

What part of your magazine never quite satisfies you, despite everybody’s best effort?

The cover. We’ve had some good ones, even memorable ones, but I don’t feel that I’m capable of crystallizing the essence of whatever bubbles up as cover material so that Margaret Kiernan, our art director, can run with it. I’d like to think it’s not having enough time (I read that Texas Monthly considers up to 50 possible cover options for an issue), but I think it’s my brain.

What story are you proudest to have published?

There are two. Both are cover stories I’m proud of for the same reason; they both seemed to resonate with our readership because they brought Drewids to life. The first was a feature Q&A with three alumni serving in Iraq: a U.S. State Department officer, a hedge-fund manager in the reserves, and an Army chaplain from Ghana. Their experiences, I’m told, gave an on-the-ground view of the war. The second was also a feature Q&A with10 outstanding undergraduates, paired with three videos, called “I Am Drew.” I gnashed my teeth over this because I worried it would come off as a bland promotional piece, but my writer and videographer, Jenny Deller, did a great job of asking unexpected questions. But neither were eligible for the CASE Circle of Excellence awards—inexplicably, the Q&A format, which I adore, is banned.

If you could commission a story from any writer in the world, who would it be?

The first name that came to mind was Dale Keiger at Hopkins. But besides him, Mark Jacobson, who just wrote a riveting cover story for New York about a lampshade that may or may be not fashioned out of human skin from Buchenwald. Or Ian Frazier, whom Brian Doyle suggested I contact for a story about a 19th-century Theological Seminary student of ours, a Bulgarian mystic whose followers still gather annually there to dance in circles in a mountain valley.

If you weren’t an editor, what would your dream job be?

Curator of public art, like The Gates project in New York’s Central Park or the Tribute in Light at the World Trade Center after 9/11.

Post a comment

You may use the following HTML:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>