A few days ago, Gillian Polack sent an e-mail to Nicki and me with the ominous subject line: “Bad news.” Something like that always makes my heart shrivel up a bit with terror; what am I going to know?
Do you remember that one of the first things I did for BiblioBuffet was interview a writer called Paul Haines? How we talked at great length about his use of bad language and how it should be handled? How he was fighting cancer? Well, he fought beyond anything I’ve ever seen. He lasted long enough so that he got to see his child have her first day at school. The doctors kept saying “You won’t see Christmas,” “You won’t see New year” and he did. Today, however, he died.
I thought you ought to know.
Thank you both for letting me do that interview, and thank you especially for letting his language shine there on the page, without any cuts or alternates.
The interview to which she referred was her second column for BiblioBuffet. I didn’t remember it until I re-read it and reached the end where an excerpt from Wives, his novella was.
Now I remembered. I remembered the discomfort with which I read it. I remember the struggle within myself as editor and reader, the former arguing that my personal boundaries should not transcend my responsibilities as editor, the latter cringing at the scene depicted and the language used. And I remembered the discussion with Nicki over that discomfort. She had no problem with it, but it wasn’t her personal take on it that mattered. Nor, as we talked it out, was it mine. Ultimately, it came down to editorial accountability. Was BiblioBuffet willing to stand behind its motto of “writing worth reading”? If so, I had to face the fact that this might mean, as it did then, printing material that I personally found offensive.
Nicki and I both eventually won myself over. I didn’t have to like what went up all the time, nor did I need to print everything that came our way, but I did need to be true to the mission statement that I originally wrote for BiblioBuffet. For the first time I had to face, squarely, the fact that running a publication that possessed integrity meant going beyond personal boundaries. I couldn’t control what the contributors chose to write, nor did I want to. I don’t believe in hiring the best and then trying to stifle that excellence. Prior to opening BiblioBuffet I learned a lot of lessons as a writer. This was the beginning of my lessons as an editor.
To Paul and Gillian I owe a great deal of thanks for their contributions to my life—as a person, a writer, a reader, and as an editor.