Bérubé How many submissions did you receive for The Institution of Literature?
Williams 385, not counting the nine essays you submitted, eight of which sucked, if you don’t mind my saying so.
Bérubé Not at all. I totally respect your opinion when it comes to essays of mine that suck.
Williams Well, they did. As did many of the 65 essays I accepted, 38 of which I had to rewrite.
Lyon That sounds like a lot.
Williams Yeah. I take editing seriously.
Bérubé Well, how much rewriting did you do? We’re talking line edits, right?
Williams Fuck no. I rewrote those motherfuckers from scratch.
Bérubé Really? What did their authors say about that?
Williams I didn’t ask them. Why?
Bérubé Well, because most of the time, when editors make substantial changes to a manuscript, they run them by the authors, that’s why.
Williams Fuck that. If I ran things by people, do you know long it would take me to produce an issue?
Bérubé No, how long?
Williams Too fucking long, that’s how long. There’s no way I have time to send editorial suggestions back to people who’ll only sit on them for four or five months and then get back to me with a bunch of bullshit complaints about what I’ve cut. Besides, do you think that guys like Leitch and Kumar give a shit either way? It’s not like they’re going to notice. Hell, I stuck three paragraphs from the Grundrisse into your first essay and you didn’t say a fucking word.
Bérubé Wait, wait. That whole bit about how “the question of the relation between this production-determining distribution, and production, belongs evidently within production itself”? That wasn’t mine?
–excerpted from Michael Bérubé and Janet Lyon, The Early Years: An Interview with Jeffrey J. Williams
In this fanciful interview composed for the minnesota review roast issue celebrating Williams’ eighteen-year run as editor, Lyon and Bérubé capture the true picture of Williams talking out of school about the task of editing the journal that Paul Buhle called “the standard-bearer for dissenting views on American literature and culture,” read by his students at Brown with “near-religious fervor,” outlasting “nearly all of the journals of its type founded in the 1960s and 70s.”
Profane, forthright, daring and stylish, Williams made editing an academic journal into a platform for public intellectualism to an extent unmatched by anyone of his generation: during Williams’ tenure, mr garnered more mentions in the Chronicle of Higher Education than any other academic journal.
For a warm and frequently hilarious farewell–patched together in just under two weeks from call for papers to shipped print job–wizard managing editor Heather Steffen compiled a mock entry in Jeff’s day planner, a flowchart of his acceptance guidelines for fiction, 4 top ten lists, a mad lib, 4 mock interviews, a previously unpublished actual interview, and 21 funny and touching short notes from grad students to luminaries. You can read the full Lyon & Berube performance, browse the table of contents or download the whole thing (pdf). You can find Steffen’s email address on the contents page if you’d like her to mail you a bound copy.
Kudos to all of the participants for their wit and grace, and special thanks to Steffen for pulling this together in the aftermath of shipping the last scholarly number of the journal under Williams’ aegis, the Feral Issue, which she coedited.
After Four Serious Bids, Journal Moves to Virginia Tech
As previously reported in this space, Williams gave up the journal rather than capitulate when the “quality managers” at Carnegie Mellon demanded that he double his grad students’ workload at minnesota review or else give up his summer pay–a “performance funding” parlor trick intended to transfer piles of loose change from the already-gasping humanities to gimmicks like the Data Truck and scary initiatives like automating the curriculum with standardized course modules (no troubling keeping up with the discipline!) and robotic grading and computerized “feedback” (“I can’t let you do that, Johnny.”)
You know–the kind of “scaling up” and “innovation” that school reform cheerleaders scribbling about college “leaders,” students, and community stakeholders without ever mentioning the faculty, even as an afterthought–“learning,” if that’s what you call it, straight from the mind of the dear leader to the student brain, uncomplicated by scholarship or faculty thought, hurray!
Despite the pressure on humanities faculty everywhere in the past couple of years, Williams received four credible fully-funded proposals from editors at public universities, all meeting or exceeding the reasonable funding standards Williams set for a journal of this stature. Congratulations to the journal’s new hosts at Virginia Tech, especially incoming editor Janelle Watson and her assistant Grace Mike.
And warm thanks to Williams for eighteen years on the job, and for going out with grace, courage, and principle.
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