JANE W. SHARPLES, 1951–2013: We pause to raise a glass to our comrade Jane, The Nation’s production director from 1980 to 2004, who died too young on January 22 after a life of raising hell and doing good.
Jane will be remembered for her mane of flaming red hair, her ever-present cigarette, her free-flowing Anglo-Saxon (“I’m the paid bitch around here”), her heart as big as a whale, her love of booze and her worship of the beach—brought into the office with the desktop she built, a glass-topped beachcomber’s delight filled with sand, shells and sea glass.
A Connecticut Yankee whose forebears stepped off the Mayflower in 1620 (a fact she cared not a fig for), Jane was proud to proclaim zero interest in politics, her descent from a long line of Republicans and, PS, that she’d never voted (for Obama, she made an exception). She knew all the Nation gossip (her office couch was a staff confessional), who needed a kind word or helpful hint, and who—high or low—required a go-fuck-yourself, all of which she administered generously.
No one who was there can forget Jane breezing through the door, caroling her morning greeting, “Are we having fun yet?” or her fierce devotion to a perfect Nation, which kept her here for crazy long days, squinting over proofs and, later, pixels.
Jane was a stickler. Whether laying out a complex double-page spread or implementing a Milton Glaser whole-cloth redesign, or cooking up a six-course meal from The Silver Palate Cookbook, or assembling a smashing designer (or vintage) outfit for a hot date, or sewing curtains for her cottage in Connecticut, resizing a piece of art, kerning a minuscule piece of type, or restoring her vintage robin’s-egg-blue Volvo P1800, it had to be perfect, or off with its head.
It was all part of the day’s (or night’s) work for Jane to stay up to the wee hours, or all night, to get out The Nation. Special issues took a little longer—for our Century issue (to ring in the new millennium), she pulled four all-nighters. She spent an entire weekend in bucketing rain apartment-hunting with our typesetter (in those pre-computer days), then guaranteeing his rent to the skeptical landlord. For fun, she hosted a staff party on her Manhattan rooftop—“The Nation Roof Riot!”—featuring a life-size Pin-the-Tail-on-Victor-Navasky game she’d created.
Her parties—home or office—were legendary. She planned her own Nation farewell bash: a Caribbean-themed extravaganza with palm trees in tubs, an ornate bar, reggae, wafting swathes of blue silk to suggest the sea and a three-inch-deep “beach” of sand on the conference room floor. (A janitors’ strike, alas, halted the sand delivery.) Then there was the Halloween pumpkin-carving contest, necessitated by Jane’s horrified discovery that some in the office had never made a jack-o’-lantern.
A free spirit and an artist in every sense of the word, Jane naïvely thought the rest of the world was as open and guileless as she was, and was often wounded when she found it wasn’t.
In some parallel universe, Jane is reclining on white sand under a palm tree, a cigarette in one hand and a vodka and grapefruit juice (hey, easy on the juice!) in the other, gazing out over a shimmering turquoise sea. Is she having fun yet? Yes. JUDITH LONG
THE FIGHT FOR PHILLY’S SCHOOLS: During one of many anti-austerity protests last summer, more than 1,000 people rallied to oppose Philadelphia’s plans to “transform schools,” a pleasant euphemism generally meaning school closures and mass layoffs. The Philly school district planned to lay off 2,700 blue-collar workers, including most members of the SEIU 32BJ Local 1201, the union representing bus drivers, cleaners, mechanics and other workers. The district eventually scrapped those plans and approved a contract that avoided layoffs but led to worker salary reductions (between $5 and $45 deducted each week from their pay), along with other concessions from the union.
The district faces a five-year $1 billion deficit, though, and is planning to save money by closing one in six public schools. The Education Department recently confirmed with activist group Action United that it plans to investigate claims that this plan will have “a disparate, adverse impact on African-American and Hispanic students, and on students with disabilities.”
The district has long claimed that students will be relocated to schools on a par with or better than the ones they currently attend, but the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (which comprises Action United, the teachers union and other local groups) claims that after closings, these strong schools rarely have room for more students. This makes educational refugees out of students, leaving them with limited opportunities to move into better situations.
In late January, the Philadelphia City Council passed a nonbinding resolution calling for a one-year moratorium on public school closings, a move Philly.com called “largely ceremonial,” since the Council cannot block the actions of the district’s School Reform Commission. Anne Gemmell, political director of the umbrella advocacy group Fight for Philly, calls the closings unacceptable. “We don’t believe for a second that it is fair all these communities, all these vulnerable communities, will be plunged into chaos for less than 1 percent savings,” she said. “That is absurd.” (For more, visit TheNation.com.) ALLISON KILKENNY
Allison Kilkenny blogs regularly at TheNation.com.