The last article Ted Solotaroff wrote for The Nation was a short tribute to Emile Capouya, an essayist, short story writer, book editor and, from 1970 to 1976, this magazine’s literary editor. When his article was published in 2005, Ted was immersed in writing a memoir about his own days as a literary editor and critic. “Adventures in Editing,” the second part of which will appear in the next issue of The Nation, is an edited version of that memoir, which was left unfinished when Ted died in August. “Adventures in Editing” concerns Ted’s first magazine gig: the years he worked under the tutelage of Norman Podhoretz at Commentary in the early 1960s. As Ted honed his editorial chops, befriended writers and clashed with his boss, he also gradually awakened to the conviction that would soon guide his work on the phenomenal little magazine New American Review: “Literature was too important a democratic resource to be left to the literati.” One can also see Ted fashioning what book editor Gerald Howard has called his “exquisitely calibrated openness to the new with old-school rigor.” We are especially grateful to Ted’s literary executor, Maura Spiegel, for her assistance in publishing this article; to his son Isaac Solotaroff for providing photographs of Ted; and to Adam Bright for research. –John Palattella
I began working at Commentary in September 1960, some nine months after Norman Podhoretz had taken over, invigorating the magazine and steering it in a less Jewish and more leftward direction. By leading off his first three issues with long excerpts from Growing Up Absurd by Paul Goodman, the surprise witness whose testimony would soon change the terms of the debate about American society from conformist to deformed, Norman made it clear that the magazine would hold its own as the suddenly prominent new voice of a new decade. It was a great place to be, and a vastly unexpected one for someone who had been about to begin teaching two sections of Factual Writing for Forestry Students at the University of Washington.
The first morning, I was shown into my office by Sherry Abel, the managing editor, a large, graceful, middle-aged woman with a droll air. “Norman wants you to read these,” she said, indicating a file folder on the desk with several manuscripts. ”They’re for the meeting this afternoon. After that you can look through those.” She nodded toward two stacks of manuscripts, their return envelopes attached to them like lepers’ bells. “They’re from what we call the slush pile. You’ll soon see why.”
And that was more or less that. No indoctrination, no getting-to-know-you, almost zero curiosity except for a sly glance. Welcome to the Big Time. As Sherry went out she asked me if I wanted the door open or closed.