From Our Staff | August 25, 2010

In the literary world, the past few weeks have been filled with stories about Virginia Quarterly Review and the suicide of its managing editor, Kevin Morrissey.  Not only has there been a flurry of inaccuracies, but also a damning indictment of the University of Virginia, VQR, and its editor, Ted Genoways.  Our marketing director, Kris Somerville, printed out the original story published in The Hook, and even in small type, the pages were the size of a phone book.  You also might have seen that this story reached The Today Show (who oddly called VQR a “campus magazine.” Um, actually, no, it’s a wee bit more than that …)

Tom Bissell, a regular contributor to VQR and author of several books, has a different and thoughtful response to the entire situation:

“Here is a different narrative of the VQR tragedy: Mr. Genoways, in elevating what had previously been a respected but quiet literary journal into one of America’s best magazines, revealed the basic incompatibility of the sinecure model of university employment with the high-pressure, emotionally tempestuous imperatives of commercial publishing. Mr. Genoways’ staff, including Morrissey, did not agree with the direction in which the magazine was going and moreover believed Mr. Genoways was spending too much money. Crucially, Mr. Genoways was bound by one extraordinary quirk of a university- and taxpayer-funded literary magazine. Morrissey, along with the rest of Mr. Genoways’ staff, were state employees first, VQR employees second. While Mr. Genoways could hire staff, he could not easily fire staff, which is the right and prerogative of, say, the editors of The New YorkerHarper’s Magazine and The Atlantic, against whom VQR was attempting to compete in terms of content (if not circulation).

“Mr. Genoways was thus forced to run his magazine in what were essentially and increasingly mutinous circumstances. Paradoxically, as the magazine pulled in National Magazine Award nominations and critical acclaim, Mr. Genoways’ relationship to his staff became increasingly toxic. Job productivity suffered and resentments accumulated, even though Mr. Genoways, Morrissey and Waldo Jacquith (the former Web editor of VQR, who told The Today Show that “Ted’s treatment of Kevin in the last two weeks of his life was just egregious”) were drawing a combined compensation of $320,000.”

Read Tom’s entire piece here, and if you haven’t, The Hook’s original story is here. Also, lots of interesting comments at HTML Giant, too. Tip o’ the cap to TMR pal Tayari Jones for the link to Tom’s story.

Michael Nye is the managing editor of The Missouri Review.