Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Interview with Evan Goldstein—March 20, 2014

Evan Goldstein (Photo by Rachel Rosen)
Evan Goldstein has been the managing editor of The Chronicle Review since 2012 and of Arts & Letters Daily since 2011. He has written several profiles and other pieces for the Review (on Michael IgnatieffKenneth HayworthDaniel Kahneman and others). The interview was conducted in his office at The Chronicle of Higher Education in Washington, DC on Thursday, March 20, 2014. He talked about his editorial philosophy and vision for the Review, magazines and editors that inspired him, the past and future of A&LD, the "great divide" between editors who track changes and those who don't, what "ideas journalism" can make of our time, the (limited) usefulness of new metrics gauging how a piece is being received, what makes a good publicist, and the role of the Review vis-à-vis the academy, among other themes and "extraneous tangents." To download the interview, click here

Quotes from the Interview

Lingua Franca was an astonishing incubator of talent. It took ideas seriously, but it wasn’t self-serious in the prose tone. It managed to prick the pretensions of the academy.

We cover the world of ideas, but I want to focus our energies on where the world of ideas intersects with the academy. I think that’s where we can be uniquely perceptive and powerful and make an impact.

While I pay close attention to the analytics that we get, I can’t say it gives you enough to grab onto in terms of future pieces or editorial direction. You can’t hang too much on a particular piece that found an audience.

If you look at the people who were the academo-stars of the 1990s, it was literary studies. Now so much of the intellectual energy, and probably the financial resources, have moved to the social sciences, economics, and neuroscience, neuroscience, neuroscience. If there’s any trend now that is comparable to the spread of theory through various disciplines, it's the neuro-fication of so many areas and I think an enterprising ideas journalist would trace that.

Pet peeve: Writers who self-reference.

The world of editing is divided between people who track changes and people who don’t: this is the great divide to me. I’m in the not-tracking-changes camp. I’ve been called on it by writers occasionally.

I try to be a minimalist. I really think there are often extraneous wording, extraneous thoughts and tangents… Are tangents inherently extraneous? No, you can have a… well, we’ll table that for now.

What should A&LD ideally be doing? Surfacing hidden gems. I don't link much to The New YorkerThe New York Review of BooksThe New York Times…I'm anti-New York…No! I just assume that most readers of A&LD are probably seeing that already, so in terms of value-added, I feel so much better when I throw up something like here's this gem of an essay in Dissent. That makes my day. 

Paragraph Edit 
(in 3 drafts)
for a piece on Stalin as editor published in The Chronicle Review on October 7, 2013

Draft #1 (Goldstein advised reframing of the piece):

Draft #2 (Goldstein's comments in yellow):

Draft #3 (final):

Interview with John Ackerman—July 31, 2013

John Ackerman's office in the Cornell University Press
building (Sage House), featuring covers of books
by some of his authors.
John Ackerman is the former Director of Cornell University Press and the Europe and Russia/USSR acquisitions editor there. The interview was conducted in Ithaca, NY on July 31, 2013 for East-Central Europe Past and Present.  To download interview, click here

Artifact: John Ackerman's Pencil

This is a #2 Dixon Ticonderoga pencil on John Ackerman's desk. Ackerman has been the director of Cornell University Press since 1990, and is also the acquisitions editor for Europe and Russia/USSR. He uses "#2 Ti"s (as they're known among connoisseurs) to do nearly all of his editing (viz. min. 1:36:11 and 1:41:43 of the interview). Many an introduction has been shredded by this pencil, for Ackerman is a famously ruthless editor of introductions. He noted in the interview that Vladimir Nabokov considered "Ticonderoga" to be an especially beautiful word. The passage in question is likely from Pnin (1957), a gorgeous novel about a Russian language instructor teaching at a thinly fictionalized Cornell, where Nabokov was professor of Russian literature at the time:
With the help of the janitor he screwed on to the side of the desk a pencil sharpener - that highly satisfying, highly philosophical implement that goes ticonderoga-ticonderoga, feeding on the yellow finish and sweet wood, and ends up in a kind of soundlessly spinning ethereal void as we all must.
The pencils were never actually manufactured in Ticonderoga (pop. 3,382), but Ackerman was; he grew up there. He describes the atmosphere there today: "Sad. Very sad."