I love the summer issues of commercial magazines with their exotic vacation escapes. Notwithstanding the crass product placement of beachwear, they are welcoming at a time of the year when we need to recharge. Certainly, the VQR staff wants our magazine to be welcoming, too, regardless of how much it differs from our glossy cousins on the newsstand. In this issue, you will find the characteristic summer fare of stories set in far-flung locales, but with our distinctive editorial treatment.
Our beach story, for example, is set in the little-known Faroe Islands between Iceland and Denmark. With its craggy, lush green hillsides rolling into the ocean, the archipelago has the appearance of a lost Eden to the spellbound outsider. As photographer Benjamin Rasmussen relates, summertime there is focused on work—largely fishing—and socializing before the twenty hours of daily sunlight give way to a harsh, dark, and isolating winter.
Catherine E. McKinley takes our readers to Namibia, the geographic and climatic opposite of the Faroes. She brings her extensive knowledge of African tribal dress and modern fashion together in a revealing look at cultural appropriation and the legacy of European colonialism. Employing a travelogue approach similar to that of her much-praised book on the history of indigo, McKinley places herself in the story in such a way that she is at once a learner and an authority, a searcher of knowledge and a translator of it.
Of course, one does not need to go abroad to find a compelling story. We have domestic coverage in this issue from three first-time contributors: Garret Keizer’s remembrance of his beloved father-in-law, Tess Taylor’s meditations on being a Jefferson descendant, and Benjamin Rachlin’s article on a North Carolina beekeeper whose gruffness masks his brilliance.
For those readers used to Keizer’s hard-hitting journalism in Harper’s and numerous books, his profile “Walt” will be a surprising heartbreaker about familial love. His prose is so utterly clean and direct and unadorned that it is not only an example of a story well told, it is a metaphor for the life well lived.
Taylor, who is known mostly for her poetry, also tackles family matters. She takes the long view, as her forebearers settled in the colony of Virginia in the late 1600s. In a clan with many prominent members, one name in particular stands out: Thomas Jefferson. Though Taylor was raised in California, her relatives are buried in the private cemetery at Monticello. In “Remembering the Randolphs,” she explores this complex legacy in personal terms.
We are proud to publish Rachlin’s first piece of reporting for a national magazine. We found his fascinating article in the slush pile among more than a thousand other submissions sent the same month. After a few weeks of the usual rewriting, polishing, fact-checking, and proofing, it is in the summer issue accompanied by vivid photographs by Peter Frank Edwards. We tell our contributors to get close to the story, and our writer-photographer team did just that. Fair warning: There will be bees. Lots of them. Bigger than life.
Led by VQR contributor Ann Beattie, our fiction selections introduce people in transition—middle-aged fraternity brothers on a misadventure in Key West, a retired couple at their wit’s end in a New Jersey gated community, star-crossed lovers in war-torn Rwanda, and a gritty young singer and her friend-exploiter in Chicago.
Beattie’s short story “The Debt” continues four decades of her work in our pages. During the tenure of VQR Editor Staige Blackford, she often dropped by the office and read manuscripts. This academic year, she became a friend and mentor to our new staff and recommended several contributors. Her retirement from the University of Virginia is a loss for our writing community, but it does not signal her departure from this magazine.
Speaking of transitions, we are delighted to announce that W. Ralph Eubanks, Director of Publishing at the Library of Congress since 1995, is the new VQR Editor. As the editorial leader of our staff, he will shape the content of the print and digital magazine, website, and e-books and will provide creative direction to our organization.
Eubanks is a gifted editor, acclaimed author, and respected publishing industry leader. He has enthusiasm for new technologies as well as a steadfast commitment to literature and exceptional journalism. Having come from the highest level of book culture, he is devoted to creating works of permanence.
At the Library of Congress, Eubanks has managed the publication of more than eighty nonfiction books on American history, photography, maps, and film in collaboration with leading trade publishers. Sharing VQR’s commitment to photography and photojournalism, he managed the recent publication of nine Farm Security Administration photography books in the Library’s “Fields of Vision” series with introductions by Nicholas Lemann, George Packer, Francine Prose, and Annie Proulx.
In addition to his broad experience in the publishing industry, Eubanks is the author of two well-received memoirs, Ever Is a Long Time: A Journey Into Mississippi’s Dark Past and The House at the End of the Road: The Story of Three Generations of an Interracial Family in the American South. Regarding the latter, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Richard Ford stated that it “enacts the liberating magic of literature: it finds its truth in between conventional wisdom and sociological presumption.”
In 2007, Eubanks was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and served as a Frederick Douglass Visiting Fellow at Washington College. The following year, he was a Bernard Schwartz Fellow at The New America Foundation. He serves on the advisory board of the Johns Hopkins University Press, has published in the American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, and Washington Post, and has reviewed books for National Public Radio. He holds a B.A. in psychology from the University of Mississippi and an M.A. in English language and literature from the University of Michigan.
Eubanks has many ties to the University of Virginia. He served on the advisory board of the Publishing and Communications Program from 1993 to 2002, and he taught several courses on books and magazines. He also served on the program committee for “Exploring the New Media,” a joint Library of Congress/University of Virginia annual conference from 1994 to 2000.
In addition to his manifold qualifications, Ralph Eubanks has the most essential ingredient for the job: an eager, inquisitive mind.
We look forward to his editorial leadership.