Back in 2003, I moved from Boston to St. Louis to start graduate school. If there is a clear moment in my life that I can point to and say “this changed everything” (and I’m not sure that I can), then that would be the moment. When I left Ohio State in 2000, freshly armed with my BA in Literature, I wanted to be a writer. And even though taking time off from school was sorta the plan, it was really after I spent three years working in the private sector, and I came to Missouri for graduate school, that things changed in permanent way. MFA program, River Styx, Missouri Review. Twelve years have passed since I drove around a bend and saw the St. Louis Arch, crossed the Mississippi, and my so called writing life blossomed.
By now, of course, you have very likely heard that I have resigned as managing editor, and that today is my last day with the Missouri Review. This weekend, I’ll head home to Ohio to visit family for a few weeks, then up to Yellow Springs to teach in the Antioch Writers’ Workshop, then, finally, I head to D.C.
Why the move? Here’s why:
Yup. I gotta go see about a girl.
The last few weeks have been pretty hectic, and I’ve had very little time—none, in fact—to reflect on my time in Missouri. I am staring at an eight hour car ride to Cincinnati on Saturday, so perhaps then, when I’m coming up on Effingham, Illinois, I’ll have more coherent ideas about the meaning of these last twelve years.
“I don’t know what I think until I write it down” has been attributed to Joan Didion, though a variation on the same idea can also be attributed to Flannery O’Connor (“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”) and both are saying essentially the same thing.
Over the years, I’ve read other people’s posts about leaving an organization, and often, it’s a list of accomplishments and a bunch of thank yous. Which is fine. A lot has happened since I came here. We had an old website that looked like this. Our submission system was an Outlook mailbox. We’ve published roughly two hundred authors in our pages since 2010. We rebooted, and in many ways began, our social media presence, including this blog, which has been an outlet for our thoughts on what’s happening in publishing without being reactionary or dull. My blog posts have, I hope, shed light on the literary magazine world and the process that our editorial staff goes through because transparency and misunderstanding continues to make the writer/editor/reader relationship sometimes becomes combative when a simple explanation is all that is needed.
And, of course, I am grateful to Speer Morgan for hiring me and being a mentor and friend. This staff—Evelyn Somers, Dedra Earl, and Kris Somerville—is wonderful, and I’m proud to have been their colleague. Two dozen graduate editors have worked here, and their contribution has been invaluable, with ideas like Literature on Lockdown and Working Writers Series (Alison Balaskovits), building our Twitter and Facebook voice (Rob Foreman), shaping our poetry in print and online (Marc McKee, Katy Didden, Austin Segrest, Chun Ye). There are undergraduate interns and office assistants that had been here for more than just two semesters, and seeing Sara Strong and Maura Lammers and Kyle Burton and Brad Babendir over the course of their college career has been amazing.
Once I start listing names, I feel I need to include everyone, and that would turn this into a blog post that is solely a list of hundreds of names. And I’ve only mentioned the staff so far: I haven’t even gotten to the writers, who make this magazine exist by sending us their work, or the editors and writers I’ve met from the litmag world who make this work so gratifying. It was at AWP Denver, when I was brand new, that I marched up to Andrea Drygas (Ploughshares), Cara Adams (Southern Review), and Tyler Meier (Kenyon Review), to name just three editors, and asked them for all the advice and guidance they could give me about how to run a magazine.
Those three, by the way, all have left their respective magazines. Managing editors don’t stay long!
How can I encapsulate these six years? How can I tell you about having drinks with Phong Nguyen and Daniel Stolar and Amina Gautier at a rooftop bar in Chicago? Or about Matt Sailor inviting me down to Atlanta to meet Georgia State students? Or when my book was accepted for publication? Or when my students get accepted to MFA programs? Or when Ashley Ford bearhugged me? Or playing basketball at AWP? Or having no one show up to my first reading my hometown (true story)? Or meeting people for the first time after talking to them on Twitter for months? Or going to San Francisco and Seattle and Minneapolis for the first time in my life? Or all the hundreds of other moments, too great to list here, too private, too personal, too numerous?
I just don’t know. But it’s all because of this writing life.
I’m afraid of losing you. I’m afraid that when I drive away from this job and this city on Saturday, that a part of the writing community that has meant so much to me for the last twelve years is going to forget me. That my contribution has stopped, that my work is over, especially since I don’t know if my next step is going to be direct involvement in the writing world in any sort of public way.
But, in person, talking to my friends this week, I feel buoyant. I’ve moved around before, and the relationships that matter always thrive, no matter the distance. It was true when I left Ohio, when I left Boston, when I left St. Louis, and it will be true again when I leave Missouri. My relationships are important to me, and while there is so much I want to say, I think this piece that summarizes an essay by Andrew Sullivan says everything better than I could. If you know me, really know me, then you know how meaningful my friendships are, and how important you’ve been, and continue to be, in my life.
I’m thrilled to be heading to D.C. Moving has been a drain on my time, and once I’m settled, I can get back to my novel (revision #843!) and new stories, and reading books again. Being in a city is going to be invigorating, and Politics & Prose is a short walk from my new place, and I will be living again in a city with NBA basketball (okay, look: that’s exciting to me, all right?). I won’t be hard to find.
This is where I say something smart or witty or deep or insightful or something as a way to close out this final blog post. As TMR’s managing editor, I’ve written 207 posts, some lengthy and some short, and right now, I’m at a loss as to how end this. Because it doesn’t really feel like the end, and it doesn’t really feel like the beginning, and I refuse to say something corny about journeys and all that. I will miss this place and this magazine and this role. But I’m ready to go. And I know I’ll see you again soon.
Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye