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For Journalists



Virginia Quarterly Review Will Mark 75th Anniversary With Book Of Classic Essays And A Special Spring Issue

March 9, 2000 -- D.H. Lawrence and Andre Gide were among its first contributors. Aldous Huxley, Evelyn Waugh, T.S. Eliot and Thomas Wolfe soon wrote for it too. As did Thomas Mann, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jean-Paul Sartre, Robert Frost, Bertrand Russell, H.L. Mencken, George F. Kennan and Robert Graves, to name but a few illustrious figures who have appeared in its pages over the years.

The Virginia Quarterly Review, one of the nation's most venerable literary periodicals, will celebrate its 75th anniversary next month with the publication of a special Spring issue and a commemorative book containing more than 50 classic essays showcasing a range of distinguished styles and voices from the 1920s to the present.

The VQR, published continuously at the University of Virginia since April 1925, when it was founded by President Edwin A. Alderman as "a national journal of literature and discussion," is one of the few publications in the country that aims to be a true magazine of general culture, points out its longtime editor Staige D. Blackford. For each issue the quarterly comes up with a wide-ranging mix of poetry, fiction, book reviews and essays, often by some of the country's best known writers.

In an age of corporate publishing often geared to light entertainment, the nation's small-circulation literary periodicals, many operating on shoestring budgets, are among the few outlets for serious writing and new writers, adds Blackford, who has guided the magazine since 1975. Like that of its glossier big-city cousin, The New Yorker, also celebrating its diamond anniversary this year, work from the VQR is often featured in the annual "Best American Short Stories" and "Best American Poetry" series.

Another VQR hallmark, its sweeping range of nonfiction and essays, on topics from politics to travel to the arts, is being displayed for the 75th anniversary. The commemorative book, "We Write for Our Own Time," which takes its title from a VQR essay by the Nobel Prize-winning philosopher Sartre and which is being published by the University Press of Virginia, has been described in an advance review by Library Journal as an "extraordinary" and "deliciously varied" collection, "certain to be an enduring standard." The book, edited by former New York Timesman Alexander Burnham, offers a selection from each decade on such diverse themes as Henry Steele Commager's "Do We Have a Class Society?", Andre Maurois writing about myth, Kenneth Clark on Thomas Jefferson and the Italian Renaissance, Mary Lee Settle on wartime London, and an anonymous 1970s piece on "Attitudes toward Sex."

Quarterlies today remain "the last refuge of the elegant essay. We studiously avoid here anything that contains jargon," asserts Blackford, who has engineered few changes in the format of the journal over the years. He re-styled the type face in 1984 and in 1989 began adding art to the magazine's distinctive orange cover.

The journal now also has an expanding, informative Web site ( where, for example, a previously unpublished story by William Faulkner that recently appeared in the VQR may be sampled.

In an office in one of the University's original Jeffersonian buildings ("so original it lacks a bathroom to this day," notes Blackford), with tables piled high with books to be reviewed, he and managing editor Janna Olson Gies handle dozens of manuscript submissions from around the country each week while shaping the current issue and planning future ones. One of the pleasures of the job is discovering a fine new piece of writing, he says. The poet Gregory Orr, a U.Va. English professor, serves as the VQR's poetry consultant.

The Spring anniversary volume is typical of the types of articles that the VQR presents its readers. In one, Edward L. Ayers, author of the highly acclaimed book "The Promise of the New South" and a professor of history at U.Va., takes a look at how the quarterly's native region has been described, deplored and debated in previous issues over 75 years. "To survey the essays on the South that have appeared in these pages is to survey much of the region's history in the 20th century," Ayers observes.

Alexander Burnham, the writer and editor who compiled the essays for "We Write for Our Own Time," looks at an aspect of contemporary culture in the Spring issue with an article on

"" The noted child psychiatrist Robert Coles, a frequent VQR contributor, writes about Anna Freud, and television newsman Paul Duke speculates about TV and its future.

Leslie Dunbar, former director of the Southern Regional Council civil rights group, examines the enduring effects of the civil rights movement. Essayist Sanford Pinkser writes on American literature, veteran political scientist Michael Nelson views the stormy relationship between presidents and the press, and Williams College art curator Deborah Rothschild discusses bridging the gap between modern art and the public in a piece called "Mission Impossible?"

U.Va. law professor and historian G. Edward White, biographer of Supreme Court justices, surveys constitutional law and the court over the last three-quarters of a century, while the Rev. John S. Spong, retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark and no stranger to controversy, covers religion with an article on "Is There a Future for the Christian Church?"

The quarterly's editors have always sought this range of subjects, with the one criterion being good writing, says Blackford. Early editors included a literary scholar, James Southall Wilson, and a historian, Stringfellow Barr, who went on the establish the "great books" program at St. John's College. The magazine managed somehow to survive the Great Depression and in its 10th anniversary issue showcased the core of what was being called a "southern renaissance" with work by Katherine Anne Porter, Robert Penn Warren, Cleanth Brooks, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate and others.

Serving as editor during four decades before Blackford was Charlotte Kohler, who received her doctorate in English at U.Va. and was one of the few women at the time to head a national literary journal.

Blackford, a U.Va. graduate and Oxford-educated Rhodes Scholar, had been a journalist, staffer at the Southern Leadership Council, editor at the LSU Press, and press secretary to Virginia Gov. Linwood Holton, before returning to the University. He says his predecessor explained the editing tradition: "to get the very best of the best." He adds that he is particularly proud that in its 75 years the Virginia Quarterly "has never shirked from publishing articles on the American dilemma of race."

In a new millennium, bringing new as well as timeless subject matter, he predicts, "the VQR will continue to be what it always has been — ‘a national journal of literature and discussion.'"

To arrange interviews or feature stories about the 75th anniversary, Staige Blackford or Janna Gies may be reached at the Virginia Quarterly Review at (804) 924-3124.

For a review copy of the VQR essay collection, "We Write for Our Own Time," contact the University Press of Virginia at (804) 924-6064.

Contact: Bob Brickhouse, (804) 924-6856

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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