The Virginia Quarterly Review completed a total overhaul today with the announcement of W. Ralph Eubanks as editor. The hire leaves the prestigious literary magazine with a full leadership team for the first time since the highly publicized suicide of its managing editor, Kevin Morrissey, in July 2010.
“It is an honor because of the publication’s storied 88-year history, having published many of my personal literary heroes, like Eudora Welty, John Berryman, and D.H. Lawrence,” Eubanks said of the job. “It is a challenge because I will be editing a general interest magazine in the digital age.”
Eubanks, who will be the magazine’s first African-American editor, is currently the director of publishing at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., where he has served since 1995. He will begin at VQR June 3, in time to oversee the magazine’s fall 2013 issue.
“Ralph has a deep understanding of how writers practice their craft,” said William R. Ferris, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. “He also knows how to shape the work of a writer. In his capacity as both an editor and an author, Ralph has witnessed the evolving landscape of book and magazine publishing.”
During a phone interview Wednesday, Eubanks said he intended to expand VQR’s content in the areas of book reviews and literary criticism, to publish photo essays in both print and digital formats, and to build on the magazine’s legacy in longform journalism and narrative nonfiction, particularly with respect to environmental issues. He also outlined his plans for organizing the magazine into departments to create predictable expectations for readers and to offer more short-form entry points in the magazine.
“Magazines like the VQR are really carefully curated content,” Eubanks said. “That’s what the readers expect. They expect something that’s editorially sound, that’s stimulating, and that someone has put a great deal of thought into how it’s presented to the reader. That’s really what I bring to the magazine both in print and online.”
Jon Parrish Peede was named VQR’s first publisher in October 2011, arriving from his position as Director of Literature Grants for the National Endowment for the Arts to take over business and administrative duties. He joined editor Ted Genoways, who edited the winter and spring issues of 2012. Since that time, longtime contributor and interim editor Donovan Webster and Deputy Editor Paul Reyes have shared editorial duties with Peede and guest editors.
Genoways was placed on administrative leave briefly in 2010 due to allegations of workplace misbehavior in the months preceding Morrissey’s suicide. He was cleared of wrongdoing by UVA after an internal investigation and subsequently resigned in May 2012 after nine years in charge of the magazine. In July 2012, Kevin Morrissey’s brother, Douglas Morrissey, filed a wrongful death suit in Richmond circuit court naming Genoways and former UVA President John Casteen and alleging, among other things, that “as a direct and proximate result of the intentional infliction of emotional distress caused by Genoways, Morrissey died.”
Locally, the fallout from Morrissey’s suicide and the inquiry that followed cast a pall over VQR, but the magazine has continued to publish Pulitzer Prize-winning authors and photographers and collect prestigious national and international awards.
Over the past decade, VQR has won more National Magazine Awards than any other literary quarterly in the country, and in 2010 it was named to Utne Reader’s 10 best magazines of the new century. In 2012, Maisie Crow’s video “Half-Lives,” a documentary produced for the VQR website that tells the stories of survivors of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, received the Overseas Press Club Award for Best Use of Online Video. The magazine’s spring issue, which focused on changes in the publishing landscape in the digital age, got props from New York Times media guru David Carr via Twitter: “Just got this spring issue of Virginia quarterly review. The issue, on the business of literature, is spectacular.”
At the time of Morrissey’s suicide, VQR was dealing with a significant administrative transition as it moved from the President’s office, where it had been nurtured by former President John Casteen, to the office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation, headed by Tom Skalak. The transition coincided with the arrival of President Teresa Sullivan and, after Morrissey’s death, Sullivan instigated a review of the magazine’s financial administration and personnel policies.
Under Genoways, VQR had turned heavily towards long-form journalism focused on international issue cuts on politics, the environment, and war, and its total expenses grew from $347,243 in FY2003-04 to $795,670 in FY2009-10. During that period, its total income also increased significantly from magazine sales, endowed funds, and University support. After the review, Peede was hired to manage the magazine’s business matters, to expand its reach, to increase donations and secure grants, and to oversee personnel matters.
Under Peede’s leadership, VQR has continued its focus on international affairs reporting but presented a wider range of thematic subjects and landed big name fiction writers more regularly, like 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout, whose story “Snow Blind” ran in the latest issue.
In hiring Eubanks, Peede, who got his M.A. at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, completes the remake of an editorial team that’s distinctly flavored by influences from his connections to Mississippi and Washington, D.C. Reyes, former senior editor of The Oxford American and a staff member at Harper’s, joined the magazine in 2012. Eubanks, who grew up in Mount Olive, Mississippi, during the Civil Rights struggle, is the author of the well-received memoir, Ever Is a Long Time: A Journey Into Mississippi’s Dark Past.
“I’m very much shaped by being an African-American from a small town in Mississippi who grew up there during the Civil Rights movement,” Eubanks said. “That’s shaped who I am, it’s shaped what I’ve written, and it’s had an impact on a lot of the books I’ve done for the Library…making sure that those voices from history that at one time were not part of the historical conversation were present there. And that’s something that I plan to bring to the VQR. I don’t think it’s necessarily an African-American vision, I think it’s an American vision.”
Web Editor Jane Friedman, a former publisher of Writer’s Digest, was hired last year to lead the redevelopment of VQR’s website, which will roll out later this year. Both Friedman and Assistant Editor Allison Wright, who joined the team this year, teach in the media studies department in the UVA’s College of Arts & Sciences.
At The Library of Congress, Eubanks managed the publication of more than 80 nonfiction books on American history, photography, maps, and film in collaboration with leading trade publishers. Eubanks said photography would be “a very important part of the magazine,” and said he would draw from his experience managing the recent publication of nine Farm Security Administration photography books in the Library of Congress’ “Fields of Vision” series, which were published with introductions from contemporary authors such as Nicholas Lemann, George Packer, Francine Prose and Annie Proulx.
“Ralph Eubanks is a gifted editor, acclaimed author, and respected publishing industry leader,” Peede said. “We are fortunate to hire a seasoned editor with such enthusiasm for new technologies as well as a steadfast commitment to literature and exceptional journalism. Having come from the highest level of book culture, Ralph is devoted to creating works of permanence.”
VQR has print subscribers in 50 states, 24 countries, and six continents and is funded by close to $4 million in UVA-managed endowment and investment funds.
Check out W. Ralph Eubanks on Twitter here.
Watch him read from his book at the 2009 National Book Awards below…