Tagged: brian doyle


zagGonzaga, from the Spokane school with the excellent basketball program and the funny name—what, you think Johns Hopkins is a funny name? well, do you? hey, I’m looking at you—did a couple of things out of the ordinary with its newest issue. For one, it published an essay by another umag editor. Brian Doyle, editor to the southwest of Spokane at Portland, writes frequently on matters of faith. He does that sort of thing rather well. Gonzaga, in its spring issue, published his “Weapons Against the Dark” on its back page and inside back cover. It begins with a Doylesque 186-word sentence:

I did not attend the Catholic university where I write these words, but I have worked here for 25 years, and there are days when I think I see something of the place and its people and poetry and possibilities maybe even more than students do; students are so thoroughly involved with growing up (or not), and thrashing after love and careers, and tiptoeing out from behind their masks and disguises, and cautiously (or not) trying to discover who they are, beyond where and who they are from, that I am not sure they have the time to see the college as an idea, a verb, a time machine, an imagination factory, a very profitable corporation, a cultural phenomenon, an evangelizing energy, a major employer, a farm for harvesting innovation, a vast verdant park, a tourist destination, an entertainment venue, and an extraordinary example of a company that sells something no one can see, smell, touch, or properly account for in other than generally ephemeral ways, if you steer away from such hard outcome data as jobs attained, marriages transacted, or acceptance rates to graduate schools.

The magazine also did a split run on the press, producing four different covers (below is the card editor Kate Vanskike sent along with my copy).


The cheeky Vanskike offered a multiple-choice explanation:

  1. We kept arguing about the best color.
  2. Our president told us to.
  3. We’re just indecisive, okay?!
  4. We thought it would be fun.

Turns out the answer is #4, says Vanskike): “Initially when we planned a coffee cover, I hoped to do a scratch-n-sniff paper that smelled like coffee; that was nixed when the sample we received had a hideous chemical odor. No one likes crappy-smelling coffee OR paper, but people do love color, and we thought having four bright color options would be a conversation piece if nothing else, for those times and places where piles of the magazine are on display.”

While I’l lauding Gonzaga, I think “To be continued” is a great name for a final-page essay. I like the sense of it—this individual issue may be over, but the story continues on and on and we’ll bring you more of it next time.

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.

Doyle on Birnbaum

bcmBrian Doyle, editor of the estimable Portland and instigator of disputations with the Dalai Lama regarding the relative virtues of soccer and basketball, writes a Friday essay for the online edition of The American Scholar. His column is called “Epiphanies” and a recent epiphany was about Ben Birnbaum, editor of Boston College Magazine. I thought it be good reading for the UMagazinology audience, and Doyle and TAS were gracious about extending permission to republish it here. (I know, I know, two Doyle posts in a row, but these things happen.)


The third great editor I worked for, after Mister Burns in Chicago and Floyd Kemske in Boston, was Ben Birnbaum, also in Boston, where he still edits Boston College Magazine, which is still a very fine magazine, largely because Ben insists that it be interesting to anyone on the planet, and not just to Boston College alumni and donors. This philosophy, I learned, is the secret of an excellent college or university magazine, and the reason so many of them are so awful; a remarkable number of “alumni magazines,” as they are inaccurately called (many of them go to stunning numbers of donors, legislators, media folk, and prospective students and contributors), are only newsletters with shiny covers, and do not seek in the least to engage, enrage, rivet, startle, move, amuse, entertain, or elevate their readers; they seek merely to report feats and fetes, rather than any serious discussion of, say, student alcoholism, cheating, financial travails, date rape, or suicide, let alone soaring topics like grace and pain and peace and war and miracles and prayer and love in all its astonishing and confusing incarnations.

“. . . a remarkable number of ‘alumni magazines’ . . . are only newsletters with shiny covers, and do not seek in the least to engage, enrage, rivet, startle, move, amuse, entertain, or elevate their reader . . .”

I learned much else from Ben. I learned to curse with panache and confidence. I learned to say no politely but firmly to ideas for the magazine that were offered by people who did not understand the magazine’s range and ambition. I learned to be absorbed by the theater and passion and communal energy of sports while remaining skeptical of claims that sports build character. I learned to pay meticulous attention to the smallest building blocks of magazines—captions, headlines, decks, rubrics, outtakes, indicia—and to try to bring to even the smallest detail some humor and dash, if possible. I learned to edit with a cold heart, seeking only clarity between reader and writer. I learned that sometimes the best editing is none. I learned that a lot of good editing has nothing to do with words and ink and everything to do with asking questions and listening intently to what is said and not said. I learned that a university magazine at its best is not a literary magazine, not an academic journal, not a general interest organ, but a deft and gentle advertisement for the zest and verve and dreams of an institution that wishes to educate and shape the tall children it launches into the bruising and miraculous world.

I also learned a bit about driving taxis in Brooklyn, and working in circuses in Australia, and studying in rabbinical school, and writing poetry, and being married, and being a dad, all of which he had done and none of which I had, yet; but it’s the editing lessons that stay with me the most, many years later. In a real sense Ben taught me to dream much, much bigger; if you are going to make a magazine, why not try to make the best one in the world? The scope of the dream surely feeds the range of accomplishment, and you will then be working with the best writers and artists you can find, and in the end the work of the best writers and artists doesn’t need to be edited, much, so there you are, with much more time for poetry, or circuses.


portlandkidI’m on record teasing editors for putting adorable babies and little kids with big eyes and irresistible furry critters on their covers and in their feature wells. C’mon, what’s the challenge in drawing readers with a snuggly baby picture? I think the word “cheating” may have been used once or twice. Three times.

A couple of weeks ago I plucked from my stack of mail an envelope from Portland, Oregon. Inside was the latest issue of Portland, with a little note from editor Brian Doyle taped to the cover. For anyone who can’t read the note on this image from my scanner, it says “hahahahahaha a cute kid cover — BD.”


UMag inbox

What all is stuffed into the mailbox this week? Let’s see . . . mm-hm . . . mm-hm . . . Portland . . . looks like a food issue . . . damn you Doyle!

The winter issue of Portland flaunts editor Brian Doyle’s unparalleled ability to convince world-class writers to contribute to his magazine. This time, damn him, he has pieces from Michael Pollan, Pico Iyer, and Edward Hoagland. Pollan to Iyer to Hoagland—man, there’s an infield. To be accurate, Pollan’s long contribution, “The End of Cooking,” is an excerpted reprint of something he published in The New York Times Magazine, and Hoadland’s “The Top of the Continent” is drawn from the essayist’s new volume, Alaska Travels. But still.

By the way, there’s a lot more to a meaty issue. I especially liked the photo essay by Steve Hambuchen of Pacific Northwest farmers, bakers, vintners, and brewers.

IC View from Ithaca College sports a redesign, as well as my favorite subhead of the week: “Alumni See Trash With Fresh Eyes.” Robin Roger edits the magazine. (Below, new cover is on the left. Relative dimensions are not accurate. The new design has the same trim size.)

The 2013 record for most people smiling and facing the camera on the cover is currently held by The Baylor Line (editor Todd Copeland:

California (editor Wendy Miller) produced my favorite lead sentence of the year, so far, in David Tuller’s “Putin v. Pussy Riot“: “In a cozy, two-room apartment in a leafy Moscow neighborhood, I gathered with half a dozen local gay and lesbian activists on a mid-August evening to drink tea, munch on zakuski (snacks), and discuss the regime of creepy Russian president and former KGB thug Vladimir Putin.” Love the opening spread, too:

Good words alerts:

— Binghamton University Magazine (Diana Bean edits) has a recurring feature called “The Other Side,” and in the Fall 2012 issue devotes it to a four-question Q&A with associate professor Steven Tammariello, who at age 43 still plays football for the semi-pro Cortland Bulldogs. (I know what you’re thinking . . . another story about a PhD biologist who plays semi-pro football?) My favorite line: “I used to be the only player with a PhD, but one of our defensive linemen earned his doctorate in organic chemistry from Cornell, so I have some company.”

— My second-favorite lead sentence so far in 2013 comes from Immaculata Magazine: “When Bob Kelly’s radio station asked if he knew a football expert who could be on their morning show The Breakfast Club, he immediately said, ‘I know just the nun!'”

— Extraordinary, moving essay by Mel Livatino, “Dogged by the Dark,” in the latest Notre Dame Magazine, Kerry Temple, editor.

Finally, since I began this post with my nose out of joint—damn you, Brian Doyle!—I will end with this great spread, from the Fall 2012 Medicine at Michigan. The photo illustration is by Clint Blowers; editor of the magazine is Richard F. Krupinski.