Tagged: oregon quarterly

UMag Inbox

cover_2 copyDigging through the tottering stack, your intrepid umagazinologist liked this cover very much, from Wellesley. So you know, that’s a red knot. (Go ahead and click the bird. You know you want to.)

Auburn Magazine had my favorite bio-in-the-deck, for profile subject Cynthia Hill: Walmart pharmacist and Peabody Award–winning filmmaker. Well, of course. One runs into those every day around here.

TCNJ Magazine from the College of New Jersey does a cool thing with their inside front cover and first page, a recurring bit called Up Front. A recent one reported the answers to the question, “What was your favorite campus concert?” and I will never understand Vanilla Ice outpolling Bruce Springsteen. That’s incomprehensible.


Nice piece from Pomona College Magazine about playwright George C. Wolfe’s contribution to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. Writer Mark Wood opens this way:

Grab a stool at the old-fashioned lunch counter. Slip on a pair of earphones and press your palms to the hand outlines on the countertop. Close your eyes if you dare. A soothing Southern voice murmurs in your ear, “This your first time, right? So far, so good. You’ll be all right.” But then you hear the mob coming, surrounding you, jeering at you. “Git up!” A vicious jolt as if a ghost has kicked your stool. “If you don’t git up, boy, I’m gonna kill you.” The voice moves around you, so close you can almost feel the breath on your ear. Dishes shatter. Silverware jangles off walls. Sirens rise in the distance. Your stool is jostled again and again as the shouting engulfs you. “Kill him!” “Stomp his face!”

After 90 seconds, the chaos subsides, replaced by a woman’s voice: “What you’ve just experienced was created to honor the brave men and women who participated in the American civil rights sit-in movement.”

Playing on nostalgia for campus does not mapwork for everyone. For example, it is the rare Johns Hopkins University alumnus who looks back at his or her undergraduate years with a warm feeling of “those were the best four years of my life.” Hopkins just isn’t that sort of place. When Johns Hopkins Magazine tried to do a feature story on campus traditions in 2006, we had to scour every division and every campus and still came up so short we made up a few just to fill out the spread. All of which is a long intro to something clever in the Spring ’15 Oregon Quarterly, in which the magazine staff discovers campus plaques they’d never noticed until they starting looking for them, and explains the story behind them. They even lobby for a plaque that doesn’t exist, but ought to.

Eight questions for Sherri Kimmel and Ann Wiens

Two of the best alumni magazines in the land have appointed—anointed?—new editors. Sherri Kimmel, most recently editor of Dickinson Magazine, takes over from Jeff Lott at Swarthmore College Bulletin, and Ann Wiens, who created and edited Demo at Columbia College Chicago, will step into the office previously occupied by Guy Maynard at Oregon Quarterly. It goes without saying that their first editorial duties were responding to the UMagazinology questionnaire.

How long were you in your previous editorial jobs?

Kimmel: I served as senior editor of Dickinson Magazine for 12 years.

Wiens: I launched Demo in the summer of 2005 and edited it until the fall of 2010, when I left Columbia for a non-editorial position at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

What proved to be the most significant thing you had to learn to do those jobs?

Kimmel: When I was hired, I was the only person working on the magazine. Then we added more staff to the roster, so I needed to learn how to hire good writers, manage them and inspire them to thrive, grow, and prosper.

Wiens: With Demo, it was to navigate the politics and various agendas of a large institution, and to learn when to dig my heels in to push something through and when to let it go. That, and basic HTML.

What have been your best experiences in alumni mag-azines?

Kimmel: Traveling to Germany three times to interview an alumnus for two magazines (ours and a national consumer magazine). The three Dickinson German courses that I took after the first visit boosted my bond with this distinguished octo-genarian writer/diplomat.

Wiens: Getting to meet so many people—story subjects, readers, and contributors—I wouldn’t have met otherwise, and finding all these little gems of experience that make great stories, then figuring out how to work through the writers and photographers to connect readers with those stories. With alumni magazines, you’re working within the limitations of the institutional purview—generally, everything in the magazine must somehow connect back to the college or university. This limitation forces you to look for stories in a different way than you would if your charge were broader, if that restriction weren’t in place. There’s a common exercise in painting and drawing classes in which students are restricted to a small range of colors or materials. The restriction is designed to force creativity, to encourage students to pull out all the stops in other areas, such as observation, composition, or mark-making. Editing an alumni magazine is similar—it compels editors and writers to look for the story in places they might not otherwise, to dig a bit deeper, be a bit quirkier, forgo the obvious.

What have proven to be your biggest frustrations?

Kimmel: Just now, making the grade in the UMagazinology blog. But seriously, dealing with the donors, trustees, alumni, parents, faculty, staff, and students who did an end run around me to pitch outlandish story ideas or complain directly to senior officers. Luckily, leadership saw fit to bounce the decisions on how to respond down to me. But responding took a lot of time and tact and additional minutes in the college gym blowing off steam.

Wiens: Institutional politics, and the ongoing difficulty of convincing certain administrators that magazines and marketing/development brochures are not the same thing.

What part of your previous magazines never quite satisfied you, despite everybody’s best effort?

Kimmel: The sports section. We always have had limited space and felt obligated to run a roundup of seasonal results. With some reimagining (and another page) we could have made it more engaging.

Wiens: Demo was called Demo because we set out to show, rather than tell, the college’s stories. There was a section in each issue called “Portfolio,” which was intended to show the creative work of an individual or group with minimal text, to be a portfolio of work. It generally ran three or four spreads, and might feature a short story, or a series of photographs, or images of artwork. I still think the idea was solid, but it seldom hit just right. We always thought it could be a truly powerful, sustained feature, but it usually fell short, in my view. I suspect we tried to make it carry more weight than it really could.

What stories are you proudest to have published?

Kimmel: “Making Their Mark—Presenting the 25 Most Influential Dickinsonians.” The top 25 (in college history) were selected based on the number of votes cast by our readers, then our full staff (including two students) wrote 25 short profiles for our fall 2007 cover story. We created a lot of good will and inspired reader response and we invited all of the living “Influentials” to a luncheon at the President’s House. Recipients still list their Influentials status in their bios for speaking engagements.

Wiens: Despite my previous answer, the story I’m probably proudest to have published was the Portfolio in Demo 9, which was a selection of photographs by students and alumni who were in Chicago’s Grant Park on election night 2008, witnessing Obama’s historic win. Grant Park, where Obama held his home-town election-night rally, is across the street from Columbia College, and many in the campus community were there, some great photojournalists among them. I worked with Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer John H. White, who teaches at Columbia, to put together a portfolio of images shot that night by his students and former students. John is African American and knew Obama; the victory was personal for him, adding to the beauty of the story. The images and accompanying text by the photographers capture a moment when I felt proud of my country, proud of my city, and proud of the community of students the magazine represented.

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

Kimmel: Before Nov. 29, I would have said the late Saul Bellow. But since I interviewed Margaret Atwood (on campus for a guest lecture that day), I would give the Canadian icon the nod. She wrote one of my favorite novels, The Blind Assassin, is dedicated to sustainability, and has about 300,000 Twitter followers. Who could ask for anything more?

Wiens: My favorite writer right now is Jim Crace, but I’m having a hard time imagining what he’d do with an alumni magazine article. Maybe Bill Bryson. His writing is like a good cocktail—an easy mix of history, humor, interesting word choices and sentence structures, personal anecdotes, and worldly information, so the reading is purely enjoyable at first, but it has a kick to it, it affects you without your realizing it. When I’m reading one of his books, I find myself thinking about what I’ve read, pondering new knowledge, engaging friends in discussions about obscure tidbits of information. Oh wait, I’d pick David Sedaris. Yeah, definitely David Sedaris. Maybe.

If you weren’t editors, what would your dream jobs be?

Kimmel: Horse whisperer.

Wiens: The job I’m beginning next month feels like my dream job, with all its potential as yet untainted by day-to-day reality. I think I’ll just bask in that for the time being!

Bonus question: What a) thrills you the most and b) scares you the most about your new postings?

Kimmel: A) Great place, great president, great people, great (Quaker) val-ues, great mag. B) Leaving a college I love, and staff that I love, to begin anew.

Wiens: I’m thrilled—truly, honestly, pinch-myself de-lighted—to be assuming the editorship of a magazine as solid as Oregon Quarterly, at an institution that clearly understands the value of a real magazine over a marketing piece, and seems committed to supporting its independence and continued editorial quality. I’m thrilled at the opportunities I see to add to what Guy Maynard and his colleagues have built. I’m scared, as an outsider, of getting it wrong, of misreading a story due to my lack of familiarity with the place. Thankfully, Guy has agreed to stick around for a while, to keep the training wheels on until I have a sense of the place and the publication. So I’m not that scared.

Eight questions for Guy Maynard

Since the mid-1990s, Guy Maynard has quietly guided Oregon Quarterly to excellence. The magazine publishes smart, well-crafted stories, looks good, and has been brave in what it publishes time and again. A high point for me was its spring 2010 cover story on the politics of anger, titled “At the Zoo.”

I use the phrase “quietly guided” because Maynard has never, to my knowledge, done much of anything to call attention to himself. He plans to retire soon, and before he slipped away—quietly, you can be sure—I wanted to get his responses to the UMagazinology questionnaire.

How long have you been in your job?

Sixteen years.

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

Edit good writers. I came to Oregon Quarterly after 10 years in trade magazines where I worked with mostly non-writer experts in highly specialized fields, so my job was to make usually dense copy readable and stylistically consistent, moving things from bad to good. At Oregon Quarterly, I’ve had the chance to work with good and great writers, trying to move things from very good to great, which is obviously more satisfying but also more challenging in many ways.

What has been your best experience at the magazine?

To be a conduit to connect some relatively unknown strong regional writers to our readers. I love working with those writers who come from distinct geographic and cultural places in the Northwest, and I’m proud of how their contributions back up our claim to be a “regional magazine of ideas” and the great response they get from readers. It’s especially gratifying to see how those writers have flourished and gained recognition well beyond the pages of our magazine.

What has proven to be your biggest frustration?

Limited circulation. It was always a fundamental principle of Oregon Quarterly that the magazine went to all alumni regardless of their donor status or membership in the alumni association. It’s the Oregon way of inclusion, in my view. The principle didn’t change but as the alumni list continued to grow (now near 150,000) we ran into a budget wall, so we could no longer afford to send every issue to all alumni. We had to cap our mailed circulation at 95,000 and we developed a convoluted formula through which some people (donors, members, most Oregon alumni) get all issues and others get rationed with the hope that everybody gets at least every other issue. It’s the best solution I could come up with, but it ain’t right.

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

Covering university news. We do fine with big stories and “brief” items, but it’s the day-to-day newsy stuff that I struggle with. How much attention should a quarterly magazine pay to those kinds of things? I’ve found It’s a challenge to find and keep writers who can get the right balance of clear and objective reporting and making sure we give the university’s position fair treatment. Over the years, we’ve erred on both sides of that balance.

What story are you proudest to have published?

So . . . when we had a big university news story to cover, we hired a Pulitzer Prize winner. Too bad we can’t do that on a regular basis. The University of Oregon made a bold proposal to change its governance and funding relationship with the state last year. We published an essay by the UO president making the argument for the proposal and we hired the Pulitzer Prize–winning alumnus [Brent Walth] to do an analysis of it (“A Risk Worth Taking?”). It was not entirely favorable to the UO’s position, which caused some significant discomfort in some circles in the administration. We were diligent in addressing any issues of accuracy and fairness raised but we did not mess with his analysis and conclusions. There was some suggestion that maybe we could just take away the question mark in the title (which was also our cover line). We didn’t. I was proud to publish this story, which I think furthered the urgent discussion of new ways to fund and govern public higher education institutions—and proud of the University of Oregon for supporting the magazine in publishing it.

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

Wendell Berry. Wise and elegant writer. I’d love to have any excuse to connect with him. A year or two ago, I might have said Jose Saramago for the same reason.

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

I gave up on playing second base for the Red Sox a long time ago (and Pedroia is pretty good), so maybe a deejay on an all-eras rock radio station.

Bravo, Oregon Quarterly

Creative Commons photo by Sage Ross
Guy Maynard edits Oregon Quarterly, the magazine of the University of Oregon, and he has done a brave thing. Confronted with nearby examples of intolerance, hate mongering, inflammatory speech, and other of the alarming recent developments in our political culture, he did not turn away and sidestep an inflammatory issue. Instead, he made a fine essay by Robert Leo Heilman, titled “At the Zoo,” the cover story of his Spring 2010 issue.

Writing about neighbors and old friends who, to Heilman’s dismay, now voice bitterness and destructive resentment and attend to the most strident voices in our mass media, the author observes:

It saddens me to see my neighbors deceived. I don’t blame them much though. Lying to people for profit has become a multibillion-dollar international industry. I condemn instead those who have deceived them, the professional liars and, even more so, those who employ the liars.

Those who profit from the subversion of reason, who inflame smoldering anger for personal or ideological gain, who appeal to the worst in human nature—to our anger, distrust, resentment, and greed—are much more dangerous to the domestic tranquility of this nation than the majority of common criminals. A thief, a burglar, or a robber only harms a few victims, but those who spread anger-inducing lies may harm millions—and their harm often outlives them and perhaps circulates for centuries.

“It is the first duty of the humanist and the fundamental task of intelligence to ensure knowledge and understanding among men,” according to Pablo Neruda, a man who certainly knew about such things. Of the demagogues, professional gasbags, spin doctors, and liars-for-hire who prey upon the vulnerable, I would ask, “If the old poet was right, then what is it to ensure ignorance and misunderstanding among people but to be working against humanity?”

Maynard also refused to turn away from a divisive campus speech issue, which he addressed in his editor’s note. In the note he explains that a discussion group called Pacifica Forum, begun by an emeritus professor, started out as a gathering for conversations about war, peace, militarism, pacifism, and other topics, but now has devolved into a platform for people espousing racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic views. After stories circulated about a discussion member giving a Nazi salute at a meeting last December—and a possibly unrelated incident in which someone spray-painted a swastika on the carpet of the school’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, and Queer Alliance—there were calls from student protesters to ban Pacifica Forum from meeting on campus. Guy’s note reads, in part:
But while the controversy continues, I want to salute the initial responses of student leadership, the University administration, and the University community. The student senate rejected a resolution that would have called for kicking the forum off campus, later passing a resolution supporting the students who were protesting against the forum. The administration condemned the content of the hateful speech coming out of the forum, but refused to use that as a pretense to ban it.

I think Guy is right in his sentiments, and right in his decision not to ignore the roiling issues but instead place some intelligent comment on those issues before Oregon Quarterly’s readers. He showed up and he did his job. I hope his readers appreciate what they have in their magazine and its editor. I’ll give Guy the last word:
An argument for banishing the Pacifica Forum is that the platform it provides for nouveau Nazis and others make some students feel unsafe on campus. Unfortunately—or fortunately, really—we can’t and shouldn’t try to make people feel safe by sheltering them from ideas that make them uncomfortable. But we can and should try to make them feel safe by responding as a community to those who preach hate and intolerance. If a community does not stand up to rebuke purveyors of bigotry, then people should feel unsafe and we are all the lesser for it.