That Notre Dame cover

ndfoodcoverJohns Hopkins Magazine is published by the Johns Hopkins University Office of Communications. That office has a design director, Greg Stanley, and he cannot stop looking at the cover of the winter edition of Notre Dame Magazine. Before he realized that the image was a photograph of a sculpture by Klaus Enrique, Stanley kept turning the cover this way and that, trying to discern if the artwork was an actual food sculpture (it is) or something executed in Photoshop (nuh-uh). What had most arrested his attention, though, was the sheer excellence of the work, the extraordinary pains the artist had taken to create something so striking.

Enrique has done a series of such sculptures, inspired by the work of 16th-century Italian painter Giuseppe ArcimboldoNotre Dame editor Kerry Temple devoted much of his editor’s note to explaining his choice of Enrique’s sculpture to grace the cover:

We thought Enrique’s portrait would make a playful, engaging, creatively cool image to introduce stories about the campus food culture—something fresh and different, like the subject itself.

Of course, we, too, see the incongruity in having a whimsical image pointing to the campus culinary scene as the face of an issue whose feature articles thoughtfully and thoroughly examine poverty, inequality, injustice and the future of the human race—even though this issue’s more serious stories are not laments but compelling prescriptions for hope. We’re all aware of the discrepancies between the haves and the hungry.

We went lighter on the cover for several reasons. One is that we thought those weightier topics—immigration, international development, global health, Catholicism and encounters with cancer—difficult to illustrate with fresh appeal. We also realized—although these subjects are of profound importance and the stories well worthy of your close reading—that the topics may not entice as cover attractions. And we always want readers eager to dive into our pages.

I like how clearly Temple lays out a common editorial dilemma. Should the cover alert readers to the best or most significant story in the issue? Or should it do whatever it can to get readers to pick up the magazine and check out what’s inside? It is easy to say it should do both, but as Temple points out, creating a cover that promises a fresh perspective on immigration or cancer or global health, that entices an audience to read yet another story on those well-worn topics, would not have been easy. The Enrique sculpture, on the other hand, is unlike anything I have seen on the front of any magazine in many a year, and does reflect what’s inside (there’s a 20-page section of stories on campus food culture).

As a writer who has become an editor, I have an instinctive urge to argue for putting the best story on the cover, even if the best story is a heavy examination of a grim topic. But if you don’t get readers to start thumbing through the issue, you have no chance of enticing them to read that heavy feature. We have all been there.

By the way, inside Notre Dame you will find a hilarious bit of memoir from Brian Doyle about his campaign to win the title Napper of the Year in his kindergarten.

On my second day of kindergarten, at a school named for a species of tree, I discovered that our teacher, Miss Appleby, presented a Best Napper Award every week, and that the child who earned the most weekly napping awards was then presented with the Best Napper of the Year Award in June, on the last day of school, in assembly, before the entire school, which went from kindergarten to sixth grade, and contained some two hundred students, none of whom, I determined immediately, would outnap me.

I report with admirable modesty that I won the first week’s Best Napper Award, defeating Michael A., who slept like a rock but flung his feet and fists as he slept (he had six brothers at home). I also won Week Two, in a landslide, but a small, moist boy named Brian F. beat me in Week Three, and the battle was joined.

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