by Matt Kelly
Blackford planning graceful
exit as Quarterly editor
By Matt Kelly
D. Blackford did not want to pull a William Shawn and overstay
Charlottesville native, who is stepping down after 27 years from
the prestigious post of editor at the Virginia
Quarterly Review, compared himself with Shawn, the legendary
editor of The New Yorker who many felt stayed beyond a time when
he could retire gracefully.
mainly a matter of age, Blackford said. Its
time for new blood and, in this age of cyberspace, someone who
is more computer-literate.
71, is the seventh editor in the magazines 77-year history,
following Charlotte Kohler, who put out the 50th anniversary issue.
Blackford took over in June 1975, with the intention of maintaining
the VQRs reputation. He succeeded and added to its prestige.
was among the first to publish a story by Pulitzer Prize winner
Robert Olen Butler and a lost story of William Faulkner,
writer in residence at the University from 1957 to 1962. A friend
suggested he look over the work of a North Carolina writer who
had dropped out of Penn State and was working as a house painter.
Blackford liked it and was the first to publish T.R. Pearson,
who went on to write A Short History of a Small Place
and several other novels.
has surrounded himself with talent. Writers and U.Va. faculty
members Ann Beattie and George Garrett have been among the readers
who cull the VQRs 800 annual fiction submissions.
wanted to get a bumper sticker that read Help stamp out
MFA classes, he said when discussing the volume of
submissions. They are getting all these people who write
short stories, and there is not much of a market for them.
journals, such as Sewanee Review, Shenandoah and Southern Review,
are carrying on the mission. Blackford refused simultaneous submissions,
citing a time he and the editor of the Sewanee Review both accepted
the same short story. He found out on deadline and pulled the
story just before the Quarterly went to press.
Thats embarrassing as hell, he said.
looks for originality, humor, diversity and an interesting topic
in stories. If I dont know what a story is about,
I dont publish it, he said. It has to be something
that I find interesting. It has to hold my attention. And the
same is true with the essays. They cant be too esoteric.
VQR is a blend of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and reviews, which
gives Blackford a wide range of topics to publish. He points to
the masthead, the second line of which reads A National
Journal of Literature and Discussion.
has been an editor for whom excellence was the chief criterion,
said Garrett, author, professor emeritus and Virginias newest
poet laureate. During the period he was running the VQR,
many quarterlies came and went (as did many other magazines).
The VQR with Staige at the helm stayed the course, not merely
surviving although that was something of magic in itself
but growing and exerting a significant influence on our
background helped him produce a journal that is accessible to
people. Blackfords father taught medicine at the University.
A member of the Class of 1952, an editor at the Cavalier Daily
and a Rhodes scholar, Blackford has had a varied career, working
for the CIA in the 1950s, editing an internal publication for
Time Inc., a history encyclopedia and books for the Louisiana
State University Press. He was director of research at the Southern
Regional Council from 1962 to 1964, then he went to The Virginian-Pilot,
where he covered politics and met Linwood Holton, the first Republican
governor in living memory. Blackford became Holtons press
secretary and speechwriter.
were the four happiest years of my professional life, he
Holton left office, Blackford came back to U.Va., working as a
special assistant to presidents Edgar Shannon and Frank Hereford.
When Kohler stepped down, Blackford suggested a friend from New
York for the job. One day, while Blackford was working in his
office off the Lawn, the late Bill Weedon, chairman of the advisory
board of the VQR, stopped by, leaned on the door frame and said
What about you?
took the job, and his friend in New York went on to become an
editor at W.W. Norton.
Blackfords tenure, the Quarterly published its 75th anniversary
edition. He is also proud of publishing two anthologies of VQR
material. Fiction was published in Eric Claptons Lover
and Other Stories and the essays were published in We
Write for Our Own Time.
Quarterly, with a 4,000 to 5,000 circulation, remains a paperbound
publication. A Web site for the journal reproduces the table of
contents and cover, but the text of articles and stories is not
available on the Internet. If the magazine leaps into cyberspace,
Blackford said, that would be his successors decision.
He plans on staying into the spring, getting out another issue
has three projects lined up for retirement. A glaucoma sufferer,
he plans a book titled For Your Eyes Only, on eye maladies written
for the layman.
also wants to write about Virginius Dabney, whom he described
as an Old Dominion tragedy, a talented man who failed
at a critical time. Blackford said Dabney, editor of the Times-Dispatch
in Richmond for 35 years and the quintessential liberal Southerner,
kept quiet during the massive resistance to school integration,
while Ralph McGill, editor of the Atlanta Constitution, railed
also wants to write his own memoirs, titled Down Hill All the
Way, based in part on a diary he has been keeping since working
all for posterity, he said, meaning my grandchildren
will get to read it.