Jonathan Galassi Interviewed in Poets & Writers
In case you missed it, Jonathan Galassi gave a long interview to Poets & Writers magazine last summer. Here are a few choice excerpts.
What were the hardest lessons for you to learn when you were a younger editor?
One of the really hard lessons was realizing how much of a crapshoot publishing is—how you can love something and do everything you can for it, and yet fail at connecting it to an audience. Maybe you misjudged it. Maybe it didn't get the right breaks. One of the hardest things to come to grips with is how important the breaks are. There's luck in publishing, just like in any human activity. And if you don't get the right luck—if Mitchi [Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times] writes an uncomprehending review, or if you don't get the right reviews, or if books aren't in stores when the reviews come, or whatever the hell it is—it may not happen. That was one of the hardest lessons: how difficult it is to actually be effective.
Another really hard thing is that, as a young editor, each book is like your baby. I remember wanting to publish Peter Schjeldahl's biography of Frank O'Hara so desperately. I lost it to some other editor who paid more money, and I was melancholy about it for months. Of course the book ended up never being written. [Laughter.] But at the time I felt like a piece of me had somehow been sawn off. I wanted to pour myself into that project so much, and it takes time for that sense of wanting, and identification—which is what publishers live on, really—to relax a little. I see my young editors going through that and I empathize so much. But you have to learn to let go of things. That was a very painful lesson.
But when I was young I had so much reverence for writing. Elizabeth Bishop was my teacher in college—she was my favorite teacher, and I revered her work, and I loved her as a person very, very much—and I remember that when she would invite us over for dinner I would get almost physically ill. It was this combination of conflicting feelings: excitement, discomfort, a sense of unworthiness. It mattered so deeply that it made me almost physically ill. Caring that much was painful. I don't know if that's a lesson but it was certainly something where the intensity of my devotion was overwhelming.