I'm not easily bored, and I quite like working from home, and Lord knows there's no shortage of things to read, no shortage even of things worth reading, yet I found myself wondering what people I knew were up to, creativity-wise, and it struck me that there is a paucity of platforms accessible for displaying fresh new artistic work.
I came to New York because I liked a literary magazine (The Quarterly) and wanted to know more about it, and study with its editor (Gordon Lish), and I did so, and my life took off after twenty years of preparation. I witnessed how The Quarterly energized Gordon, kept him in the game, alert to the next fresh text that he'd proudly publish after going a couple of rounds with its author. Gordon was a bold and visionary editor who delighted in slashing whole pages from a short story and scribbling in an entirely different ending, sometimes giving the story a meaning very close to the opposite of what its author had ended up with in the first instance. He is an anti-sentimentalist, a minimalist, who loved nothing more than the heart-jabbing expression that brought tears to his eyes. Working with him was an education the likes of which I never could have got from college. He wasn't perfect--who is? But he was decisive and smart and he thrived on risk of a certain literary kind--writing, as he liked to say, without a net, and editing without one, too.
I dedicate this project to him and I hope what he taught me about editing will be realized herein. Now in something like his 86th year, I salute him and thank him.
Gordon had a wicked sense of humor which he passed down extra-strength to his son Atticus, himself now an acclaimed novelist. In his youth, Atticus made dozens if not hundreds of funny, bizarre, disturbing drawings that delighted Gordon even when they worried him. I present one here, from his 2012 collection of them, Life Is With People (Tyrant Books) to get things off on just the right foot.
Rick Whitaker was editorial assistant to Gordon Lish at The Quarterly and Alfred A. Knopf in the early 1990s. He is author of Assuming the Position: A Memoir of Hustling, The First Time I Met Frank O'Hara: Reading Gay American Writers, and An Honest Ghost, a novel made entirely from discrete sentences found in other books. He produces events at Columbia University's Italian Academy.