Looks easy: New VQR editor has magic touch

Everybody has problems. Not everybody has the kind you'd kill for.

Meet Ted Genoways.

His latest problem? Trying to get clearance from the State Department to run a penetrating essay on the reconstruction of Iraq– written by an actual member of the reconstruction– in time for the spring issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review, the legendary Charlottesville-based literary magazine for which Genoways is editor-in-chief at the ripe old age of 31.

Nobody ever said life would be easy.

Though he only recently arrived in town to take the helm at VQR, Genoways is no stranger to Charlottesville literary life. As an MFA student in poetry writing at UVA in 1997, he faced quite a different sort of problem at VQR: He wanted an internship and they weren't offering. So he did what anybody would do. He started his own national literary magazine.

"Ted doesn't just have ideas," says UVA professor Stephen Cushman. "He makes them happen, and he does so fast."

Genoways founded Meridian more or less out of thin air, and pulled off an incredible coup with the first issue, obtaining an excerpt from Russell Banks' monumental novel Cloudsplitter, as well as an interview with the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist. Genoways' lighthearted explanation of how he did it tells you all you need to know about his powers of persuasion:

"I basically begged and begged his agent until she couldn't take it anymore."

Afterward came a job at the Minnesota Historical Society Press, where the first book he edited won an American Book Award. "Talk about setting the bar too high," he laughs.

It was the first of a string of editorial successes, complemented by the success of his first collection of poems, Bullroarer, which won the 2001 Nebraska Book Award. Last April came the luckiest problem yet. Genoways was offered the editorship of VQR midway through his first year in the English PhD program at the University of Iowa. Unsurprisingly, he's found a way to do both.

With just one issue under his belt, Genoways' VQR work is generating plenty of attention. That's all the more impressive because he only recently arrived in town to take the VQR helm from the late and highly acclaimed Staige Blackford.

The once-staid journal now features glorious color, a huge web presence, and some of the most engaging fiction, non-fiction, and poetry to be found anywhere in America. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities president Rob Vaughan remembers Genoways' spirited work on the Virginia Festival of the Book in the late '90s. "He's already bringing that same energy and vision to VQR," Vaughan says.

For his part, Genoways is most excited about the magazine's unique balance of creative and critical material.

"No other place I know of is so fully committed to both things," he says.

No other guy I know of makes problems look like so much fun.

Ted Genoways