Closing chapter: VQR's Genoways resigns, Waldo celebrates
After serving for nine years as the editor of Virginia Quarterly Review, Ted Genoways has stepped down to "concentrate on his own writing," according to a midnight UVA press release. Recently appointed deputy editor Donovan Webster will serve as interim editor until a national search for a new editor is launched in July.
"Ted has been an outstanding editor," said Thomas Skalak, UVA vice president for research, who took over operation of the magazine following an internal investigation in 2010. "Under his direction, VQR built a devoted following and an unparalleled record of recognition."
"I look back on my nine years as editor with pride, but I also hope that the new staff will not feel in any way encumbered by that legacy," said Genoways. "VQR is theirs to steward and re-imagine now, and I hope they will be able to build on and exceed past successes."
Judging from the UVA press release, Genoways single-handedly transformed VQR from an obscure college literary magazine to one that could compete with the likes of National Geographic and the New Yorker.
"Under Ted Genoways, Virginia Quarterly Review has become one of the most widely-admired magazines in the country,” said Sid Holt, chief executive of the American Society of Magazine Editors. "From 2005 to 2011, VQR received 25 National Magazine Award nominations in categories ranging from fiction to multimedia."
However, in a recent post on his local news blog, former VQR web editor Waldo Jaquith offers a candid assessment of his time at the VQR that calls into question the official UVA take-away on Genoways' tenure.
In August 2010, VQR and Genoways also became the most widely talked about magazine for a different reason: the tragic suicide of it managing editor, Kevin Morrissey, who shot himself down by the Coal Tower property off Water Street after years of struggling with depression and weeks of tension with his boss, which were recently revealed in a Hook story about a series of emails between Morrissey and UVA officials.
Morrissey was an integral part of VQR's success between 2005 and 2011, editing and reading manuscripts in Genoways' absence, and managing a staff of three. Weeks before his death, Morrissey appears to have had enough.
"Sorry to be blunt about this," writes Morrissey in an email to UVA human resources manager Angelee Godbold just days before his death, "but I'm feeling little optimism that the situation will improve." Godbold acknowledges that the situation with Genoways has been "very painful" for Morrissey and his staff for "a long time," and calls it "one of the most awkward workplace scenarios in which I've been involved for awhile."
As Jaquith recalls, Genoways' "increasingly erratic and nasty behavior towards his employees" not only culminated in Morrissey's suicide, but prompted the entire staff to quit. As Jaquith points out, a UVA investigation launched by incoming UVA president Teresa Sullivan "found that Genoways lacked the capacity to supervise employees, demanded that his inappropriate financial practices be ended, and called for an investigation– which apparently has not happened– into his use of university funds to publish his own book of poetry."
The tragedy also led recently to the establishment of the Respect@UVA program, a comprehensive workplace initiative designed to promote "kindness, dignity and respect."
While UVA officials heap praise on Genoways and the VQR's many awards, Jaquith offers a different perspective, from someone on the ground in the VQR office. After Genoways took over, Jaquith says the "publication's focus gradually narrowed, being written for an audience of Genoways' fellow National Magazine Award judges, until every issue was dedicated to wars and various types of misery. Circulation shrank accordingly."
Indeed, under Genoways, while the number of awards may have gone up, the number of subscribers to the VQR went down. Last year, print circulation was listed as 7,000 on the VQR website. However, Skalak told the Hook last April that circulation was 5,000. Today, it's listed as 3,000 on the website, including newsstand and single-copy sales. With only 1,200 of those paid subscribers, Jaquith points out that's two days of unique visitors to his own locally-focused news blog.
"With Genoways leaving, I wish them [newly hired VQR employees] the very best of luck in their efforts to return the magazine to a viable state," writes Jaquith.
Towards Genoways, though, Jaquith has less empathy.
"When [Genoways], through his lawyer, repeatedly and unsubtly implied that the audit of VQR’s finances would reveal that Kevin was stealing from the magazine, and his suicide was because he thought he was about to be caught," says Jaquith. "That was a disgusting, shameful lie, as of course the audit demonstrated. If there is an afterlife, Genoways will be punished accordingly."
Meanwhile, his former workmates appear to have landed on their feet. While Jaquith works for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, former associate editor Molly Minturn is now the managing editor of UVA's Arts & Sciences Magazine, and former circulation manager Sheila McMillen settled with the university under undisclosed terms and was given early retirement. As for intern/donor-turned-employee Alana Levinson-LaBrosse, she now teaches English and public speaking at the American University of Iraq under the name Marie LaBrosse.
VQR contributor Elliott Woods, who has strongly defended Genoways, declined to comment on the editor's resignation or Jaquith's comments. Skalak, Jon Parrish Peede, and another VQR contributor who has publicly defended Genoways, Tom Bissell, did not respond to requests for comment.
"Unlike Genoways, I’m from Charlottesville, and I intend to die in Charlottesville," writes Jaquith. "Lying might buy some short-term benefit, but the truth always comes out eventually. When it became clear that he was lying, he decided to skip town. But I’m not going anywhere. On June 1, when Genoways is gone, I’ll crack open a split of champagne and mark the conclusion of an unpleasant chapter in my life."
–this story was updated on 4/6/2012 at 12:53pm; original headline: "VQR editor Ted Genoways resigns"This story is a part of the Turmoil at the VQR special.