Editors, We Hardly New Ye

Rediscovered an old, but still insightful paean to editors by the poet and memoirist Blake Morrison.

Novelist Thomas Wolfe, whose mammoth manuscripts were transmuted into literature by the great editor Maxwell Perkins.

“A graduate student of mine at Goldsmiths College expressed similar nostalgia in an email: “I have a notion of editors in days of yore,” he wrote, “being straight-backed and terrifying, all integrity and no bullshit, responding to a vocational calling and above all driven by a love of the word, brave enough not only to champion the best but also to tell their authors whatever might be needed to improve the work. And that now such personalities are as distant a myth in publishing as yer Shanklys and yer Cloughs are to football, that sharp-dressed corporate beasts run the show, reluctant to make decisions of their own, and ill-equipped to challenge those who rule a star-led system, so that everyone from JK Rowling to David Eggers suffers from the lack of scissors that might have been to their benefit.”

and later…noting that some writers don’t hesitate to knock editors, he calls T.S. Eliot to the stand,

“Those who can, write; those who can’t, edit – that seems to be the line. I prefer TS Eliot. Asked if editors were no more than failed writers, he replied: “Perhaps – but so are most writers.”

This article is now more than a decade old, and editors and editing standards have declined even more precipitously. (Newspapers being a particularly baleful example.) At a time that everything I read (or write for that matter) seems to need them urgently.

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