HOTSEAT- All jazzed up: Genoways keeps VQR shining

Back in 2004, the Hook had already picked up on Virginia Quarterly Review editor Ted Genoways magic touch. "Ted doesn't just have ideas," UVA professor Stephen Cushman told the Hook in a Facetime feature. "He makes them happen, and he does so fast."

Indeed, Genoways, who was 31 at the time, had already founded Meridian, a literary magazine edited by students in UVAs MFA program (Genoways also got his own MFA at UVA), edited a book for the Minnesota Historical Society Press that won the American Book Award[this award was incorrectly described in our print edition; it's been corrected here–editor], published a collection of poems, Bullroarer, that won the 2001 Nebraska Book Award, was getting his PhD in English at the University of Iowa, and had just become VQRs editor after former editor Staige Blackfords 28-year stint.

Not surprisingly, Genoways wasted no time radically changing VQRs design, creating a dynamic web presence, and getting the likes of E.L.Doctrow, Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie, and Art Spiegelman to contribute to the magazine.

Last week, Genoways' magic touch became a Midas touch.

After being nominated for six "Ellies," the magazine worlds highest honor, VQR won two at the 41st annual National Magazine Awards held May 9 at the Lincoln Center in Washington, D.C.

VQR took the General Excellence Award for magazines with circulations under 100,000 (the magazine has a circulation of only 6,000), and more surprisingly it took home the Fiction Award, edging out heavyweights like The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, Esquire, and Harper's. Not bad considering that those magazines have dozens of staff members and annual budgets in the millions.

The awards are a tremendous honor, says Genoways. That's as high as it goes in the magazine world, our Pulitzers. Or as actress Meg Ryan said at the after-party, I guess every industry has its Oscars."

For Genoways, though, the honor wasnt about the award itself or getting to mingle with stars like Ryan. For me, the honor was being in the room with Lewis Lapham, David Remnick, and Jann Wenner– and realizing that we had won as many awards as they had.

But Genoways is quick to return to earth. Alhough the colorful new VQR has made a big splash in the magazine world, its previous editors– and its long history as one of the countrys best literary journals– still haunt the old building at One West Range.

"It's not the awards that have been life-changing, but the editing itself," he says. "The great opportunity this job presents is the chance to be a lifelong student. If there's a subject I want to know more about, I can commission a group of experts to write about it. What could be better? And along the way, I get to read the best literature as it's produced and still fresh from the writer's pen."

When Staige Blackford became editor in 1975, he succeeded long-time editor Charlotte Kohler, whom Sewanee Review editor George Core had called "probably the best quarterly editor of the twentieth century." In turn, Blackford (who died in a car accident shortly before Genoways assumed the editor's seat) fiercely guarded VQRs reputation over the next 28 years. (Incidentally, VQRs present circulation manger, Shelia McMillen, discovered many great writers– including UVAs own Christopher Tilghman– during her years as a reader for the magazine.)

"I inherited from Charlotte one of our foremost intellectual beacons, Blackford said in a 1989 interview with novelist George Garrett, and my job is to keep that beacon shining."

Still, Blackford understood that the magazine also needed to evolve. In the same interview, he told Garrett, I want to jazz it up a bit. I want to appeal to a younger audience. That's one of my worries. People die off. One of my big concerns is what kind of audience we're going to have ten years or so down the road."

Not to worry, Mr. Blackford. The intellectual beacon appears to be shining.

Age: 34

Why here? My wife and I had lived here while I was a student in the MFA program in creative writing and had always hoped to return. Then I was hired as editor of VQR.

What's worst about living here? Housing prices. I still can't believe the astronomical cost.

Favorite hangout? I have a three-year-old son, so I mostly hang out at home.

Most overrated virtue? Moral conviction.

People would be surprised to know: That I'm a rabid football fan–dating from my childhood in Pittsburgh in the '70s.

What would you change about yourself? I'd be more patient, more focused, more organized.

Proudest accomplishment? In my personal life, I share with my wife the proud accomplishment of raising our son. Professionally, I guess I don't reflect much on "accomplishments." I'm always concentrating on the next task ahead.

People find most annoying about you: I respond slowly to e-mail. I think half of my correspondence begins with an apology for the delayed reply.

Whom do you admire? This one's easy: my parents. I've always liked my parents– even in high school– but I'm only now beginning to understand how much work they did for my sister and me.

Favorite book? Just one? The 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass. Honorable mentions: Moby Dick, As I Lay Dying, and Blood Meridian.

Subject that causes you to rant? First and fourth Amendment infringements– which are increasingly becoming related issues.

Biggest 21st-century thrill? I'm basically a research nerd, so my greatest thrill is electronic databases– having old information digitized and newly searchable.

Biggest 21st-century creep out? Knowing that it's the job of 40,000 people at the NSA to monitor all electronic communication at all times. I understand the argument for it, but the ease with which it can be abused gives me the creeps.

What do you drive? A dark green Scion xB– the car that makes the Volvo wagon look curvy.

In your car CD player right now: Red Hot Chili Peppers: Stadium Arcadium.

Next journey? I'd love to take a family trip to the Southwest. I'm still in love with New Mexico and West Texas.

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? A 60-mph collision with a moose in a fairly remote part of Alaska in 1996. It took several weeks and every penny I had to get out of that fix.

Regret: Being so far away from my family. The hardest part of being in Charlottesville is that it requires a plane trip to see everyone in Nebraska.

Favorite comfort food: Barbeque of any sort.

Always in your refrigerator: Salsa.

Must-see TV:I keep saying that Deadwood will be regarded as the Shakespeare of our period– popular entertainment that is only later recognized for its genius.

Favorite cartoon: I love the Pixar feature-length cartoons. If not for Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., and Toy Story, I think I would have gone crazy by now.

Describe a perfect day: Any day spent outside with my family, especially camping.

Walter Mitty fantasy: Back in the '80s, Bono used to bring a fan on stage to join U2 for one song. He'd shout out, "Who wants to play my guitar?" It's 20 years later, and I'm still hoping to be picked.

Who'd play you in the movie? Probably Will Ferrell– which does not please me especially.

Most embarrassing moment? Any moment involving a dancefloor.

Best advice you ever got?When I was in college, my Shakespeare professor wrote on my final essay, "It's time to stop trying to seem smart and to start being smart." He was right.

Favorite bumper sticker? "Mean People Suck"–because they really do.
Ted Genoways