By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
Here's where the plot thickens. Joel Lovell, who edited Readings before Burton, quit Harper's last fall to join Saturday Night as editor of the Canadian Letters section which bears a strong resemblance both to Readings and to This American Life. So what do these creative forums have in common, besides the ubiquitous fingerprints of Paul Tough?
Julie Snyder, a senior producer for This American Life, explains that the radio show and the Readings section both rely on narratives by "everyday people, people who aren't official writers. It's the idea of finding stories in unexpected places." The show also tries to help people tell their stories in a way that gets to the "emotional heart" of the matter a technique at which Tough excels, according to Snyder.
Pointing out that Harper'seditors and This American Lifeproducers belong to a mutual fan club, Tough says many of them share an ability to locate material in diverse genres and to juxtapose that material in a way that brings out the connections between the disparate elements. "Just as a Readings editor looks for a particular piece of art to put next to a particular box to embed in a particular essay," says Tough, "at This American Life, they're creating shows around a single theme, and all the stories get at that theme in different ways. When you listen to them back to back, they mean something more than what they would on their own."
Tough and This American Lifeexecutive producer Ira Glass go way back; Glass was contributing to Harper'sbefore he launched the radio show. And one more thing: Tough started his career as an intern at Harper's, as did Susan Burton, Alex Blumberg (who also joins This American Lifeas a producer this month), and Roger D. Hodge. Hodge will succeed Burton as Readings editor at Harper's.
Marriage of Ideas
Talk about a power couple: Nicholas Lemann and Judith Shulevitz, respectively a staff writer for The New Yorkerand the New York editor of Slate, plan to get married in November. And it's no secret. They invited about 70 friends to a rollicking engagement party on May 23, at the home of Walter Isaacson and his wife.
Isaacson is, of course, the managing editor of Time magazine, and his party would have offered rich material for Lemann's new book, which chronicles the history of meritocracy in the U.S. High-IQ partygoers included New Yorker writers Joe Klein, Lawrence Weschler, and Malcolm Gladwell Gladwell being one of Shulevitz's best friends.
Shulevitz is a decade younger than the fortysomething Lemann, but has a résumé to match. When Michael Kinsley tapped her for Slate, she was already ascendant in New York, having worked as editor of Lingua Franca from 1991 to 1994 and deputy editor of New York magazine from 1994 to 1995. In 1996, when Mediaweek included her on a list of editorial all-stars for the "next millennium," the mag made pointed reference to "her frighteningly big brain." Her essays on highbrow topics from Freud to feminism now appear regularly in Slate and The New York Times Sunday Book Review.
And Lemann? In April, New Yorker editor David Remnick called his new hire "one of the best and smartest journalists of his generation." Lemann's first long piece for The New Yorker is due out in a few weeks, and his book on meritocracy will be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in the fall. On staff for many years at The Atlantic Monthly, Lemann published The Promised Land, a book about the history of the black migration to the North, in 1991. He and his sister, the novelist Nancy Lemann, grew up in New Orleans along with childhood buddy Walter Isaacson.
Lemann and Isaacson, both Harvard men, were crowned members of the media "overclass" by Newsweekin 1995. Did someone say meritocracy? Next time someone compiles that chart, expect Shulevitz to appear with a bullet.