Dawn Raffel on working with one specific magazine editor:
I’d like to put forth an appreciation of Robley Wilson, who is one of the under sung heroes of American fiction. A brilliant novelist, short story writer and poet, Robley Wilson was also the editor of the North American Review for more than two decades during its glory years, when the magazine was publishing , , , Andre Dubus
and a lot of other writers who later became very well known. His
magazine was remarkably eclectic (long before I heard the terms
“microfiction” and “ ,”
he was out there running “four minute fictions”); there was no one
style, and along with short stories, readers could find serious
nonfiction: essays and reportage. Decades before the green movement,
the NAR was paying real attention to the environment.
One day when I was working as an underling in the fiction department at Redbook, I answered my boss’s phone and it was Robley Wilson. Luckily for me, my boss was out of the office. I ended up having a longish conversation with Robley, after which I decided to risk sending him the short story I had been poking at for three years. I didn’t think he’d say yes but I figured he would be nice enough not to laugh at me and might offer some useful criticism. Several months later—he read everything but was never known for speed—he stunned me by accepting the story. This was over the phone again, and I was so excited that he genially told me to calm down because I was getting only $40. He did not ask for revisions and he did not make changes; instead he told me I had “something” and suggested I find a good teacher. (Translation: Yes, you can do this and yes, you have a long way to go.) Another tip: Tell everyone I was working on a collection because eventually I would have one.
Robley published one more of my stories in the NAR after that, and then I did find a teacher: Gordon Lish. I have thanked Lish a few million times and will probably thank him a few million times more before I check out, but I also want to publicly acknowledge Robley Wilson, whose genius as an editor was to read everything with an open mind and a laser-sharp sharp eye, and to shine a light on the people he believed in. He has long since left the NAR but a few years ago he was guest editing Lost and published one of the stories in my forthcoming collection, again with no changes. He once told me that he would rather live with a story’s flaws than insert himself into the text. Every time I see Robley, which isn’t often, I am surprised all over again by how tall he is and how softly he speaks. In his quiet, hands-off, unassuming way, he launched the careers of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of writers. As readers and writers, we are in his debt.
Dawn Raffel’s new story collection, Further Adventures in the Restless Universe, comes out from Dzanc Books in March, 2010. She is the author of a previous collection, In the Year of Long Division (Knopf) and a novel, Carrying the Body (Scribner).