TOM JOYCE | Mid 1970s

[Editor-in-Chief, 1974]

I became editor-in-chief of Chicago Review in a sideways fashion early in 1974, when the new editor, a protégé of his predecessor, got himself ousted almost immediately upon taking office. I’m not sure whether palace revolt or popular insurrection is the better metaphor. Our normally laissez-faire faculty advisors, Arthur Heiserman and John Cawelti, under the benign stewardship of Karl Weintraub, had to intervene and we held a new election for editor-in-chief. I had been one of the fiction readers when I was in college (SB Mathematics), and I had continued in a similar role with the magazine while I was working in the Regenstein Library, saving up money for an ambitious trip to Europe in 1975. I ended up being elected editor-in-chief perhaps because I hadn’t been involved in any of the warring factions, and took the job with the stipulation that after putting out four issues, I would go abroad as planned.

Among the Review staff there was anxiety and uncertainty, including a fear that the University administration might decide that this odd “little magazine” was not worth the trouble and expense to keep it going. As one of my friends observed to me at the time, the crisis required me to be as much caretaker as editor. Looking over the Review’s website forty years after I turned over my office to my successor, it is somehow heartening to think that my primary achievement may have been to act as one link in a long chain.

The young women and men who worked on the Review were a diverse collection of current or former students from disparate majors who had a common passion for literature. In that pre–social media world our bread-and-butter discussions, mark-ups, and so on occurred via informal face-to-face meetings, in an atmosphere of friendliness and collegiality peppered with honest disagreements. Some of the working sessions took place at Jimmy’s on 55th Street, where the bartenders might enforce closing time by standing on the tables and shouting, “Go Home! Get Out!” at the top of their lungs. The Review office was cramped, dark, and dingy, and the lock could be slid open with a credit card. The hallway we shared with the old post office had a community feel from the people coming and going, and if you kept the door open you never knew who might stick their head in. Our subscription list was maintained on IBM punch cards, which we stored in heavy cardboard trays and which had to be lugged over to the Computation Center and run in “batch mode.” Quarterly mailings were marathons of hand-stuffing envelopes, affixing computer-generated address stickers, and packing duffel bags, usually well into the night. One lucky evening we had the whole issue put to bed by 8:30, and it was like the scene in Cool Hand Luke where the road-gang prisoners finish the asphalt job ahead of schedule.

For many of us the Review’s role in showcasing Naked Lunch in the 1950s exemplified its identity: to feature innovative, experimental, or unconventional writing that might not easily find an outlet elsewhere, maybe with a little bit of épater les bourgeois thrown in for good measure. Most submissions came in unsolicited through the mail, but everybody on the staff also felt free to investigate and develop contacts among writers all over the country and the world. As I scan the tables of contents now, after a hiatus of decades, I am impressed by the range and the quality of the writing the Review was able to attract and present, as well as relieved that my own shortcomings and mistakes did no lasting damage. My noblest effort in this regard was to try to secure an excerpt from William Gaddis’s work-in-progress J R, which would be published to great acclaim one year later. I failed, but Gaddis wrote me a succinct, classy note explaining why he could not think about it at the time. He had a distinctive, calligraphic signature. Somewhere, I hope, he is still being read.

In any event, after the initial kerfuffle, things settled down quickly. The administration advised and consented, as appropriate, but generally left the Review to its own devices once again. In addition to our other faculty
advisors, all of whom executed their volunteer duties with wisdom, patience, and understanding, I especially remember Professor Weintraub for the qualities he brought to bear in dealing with something that may have been, from his perspective, a very minor project veering at times between a nuisance and a folly. I tried not to bother him too often, but I always enjoyed our conversations. He was a great guy.