VQR rising? Lit mag hires new publisher, deputy editor
On Monday, December 12, about fourteen months after the award-winning Virginia Quarterly Review might have appeared on the verge of extinction after an 86-year publishing streak, the University of Virginia announced that a new publisher and deputy editor are joining the staff.
In August 2010, the VQR was rocked by tragedy, the suicide of its 52-year old managing editor, Kevin Morrissey, who shot himself near the Coal Tower property on the last official day in office of then University President John Casteen.
Grief-stricken VQR staffers and Morrissey family members alleged that VQR editor Ted Genoways had treated Morrissey cruelly in the weeks before his death, something Genoways denied even as the case spiraled into a national discussion about workplace bullying.
Later, it was revealed that Morrissey had reached out to UVA officials as many as 18 times to address the workplace problems in the weeks before his suicide. One VQR staffer called Genoways' treatment of Morrissey "egregious," while others accused him of squandering VQR funds, being an absentee boss, and courting a wealthy, 24-year-old donor by creating a job for her without an official search.
What's more, a UVA investigation revealed evidence of financial recklessness and mismanagement, and recommended that "corrective action" be taken against Genoways.
Still, University officials elected to stand by Genoways. While the magazine had been associated with the prestigious UVA English Department, where the Creative Writing Program is consistently ranked among the best in the country (indeed, two former UVA grads are currently on the New York Times Best Seller list), the VQR was moved out from under the oversight of the President's Office, removed from its coveted Lawn-area office, and placed under the supervision of the Office of the Vice President for Research.
"Why they didn't just turn the VQR over to English department," a faculty member tells the Hook, "is beyond me."
For the new crew, however, Genoways is an "incredibly gifted editor" who is offering a chance to create innovative content.
New publisher Jon Parrish Peede is an experienced writer, editor, and publisher who also served as Director of Literature Grants for the National Endowment for the Arts and funneled more than $5 million into the hands of fiction writers, translators, as well as to nonprofit presses, journals, and literary organizations.
“I am delighted to serve the University of Virginia and the literary community in this role,” says Peede in a release. “It is a privilege to work on a publication of such distinction and with so much promise. At a time when so many magazines and newspapers have reduced their reporting, VQR stands out for its editorial ambition, thoroughness, and cultural importance.”
"We're just trying to build this into something that people have to read," says new deputy editor Donovan Webster, an acclaimed magazine writer who acknowledges the VQR's recent troubles, but points out that he's focused on the future.
While other prominent literary journals have been forced to make sacrifices for their survival, it appears that the University of Virginia is prepared to invest even more money in the little journal.
For instance, Shenandoah at Washington & Lee University, which was founded in 1950 by a group of students, including author Tom Wolfe, was forced to cease its print operations and is now online only. At Middlebury College, the the New England Review was ordered to become self-sustaining or get its funding pulled.
While salary information was not immediately available for the two hires, the job postings listed target compensation in the six-figures (and editor Ted Genoways already has a $170,000 compensation package). In addition, a VQR business plan obtained by the Hook reveals that the annual budget for fiscal year 2012-13 stands at $1.2 million with searches continuing for an office manager and a web editor.
Or to look at it another way: with roughly 1,500 VQR subscribers, UVA is spending $800 per subscriber per year. Yet, according to the business plan, VQR hopes to become sustainable by increasing print subscriptions and by selling digital content and advertising. Going after donations is also an objective, as the magazine plans to establish a "Friends of the VQR" donor base and secure three to five multi-year major gift donors at $50,000 per year.
Can VQR pull it off? We'll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, the news guys are looking forward to the challenge.
"It's gonna be cool," says Webster.This story is a part of the Turmoil at the VQR special.