A.N. Devers | Longreads | December 2017 | 26 minutes (6,577 words)
This is a story about a woman who was erased from her job as the editor of the most famous literary magazine in America.
In 2011, the New York Times ran Julie Bosman’s energetic and gregarious profile of Lorin Stein, the latest head editor of the famous literary magazine The Paris Review — a position for which she declared, “Bacchanalian nights are practically inscribed in the job description.” The profile portrayed Stein as an intellectual bon vivant who loved parties, party-boy banter, and debating literature as if it were the most important thing in the world.
We know now that Stein, by his own admission, abused his power with women writers and staff of the Paris Review. He has resigned from the literary magazine and from his editor-at-large position at Farrar, Straus and Giroux in response to the board of the Paris Review’s investigation into sexual harassment allegations and his conduct. We also know, by his own admission, that he did not treat literature as the most important thing in the world.
Stein himself admitted it in a cringeworthy 2013 online feature from Refinery29 focused not only on the magazine’s debaucherous parties but also on the interior decor of the Paris Review’s offices and fashion choices of the staffers, who were nearly all women. “It’s always been two things at once,” he says about the Review. “On the one hand, it’s a hyper-sophisticated, modernist, avant-garde magazine. On the other hand, it’s sort of a destination party.”
We now know, between this and Bosman’s piece, even without details of the accusations or reports printed in the Times, or the far worse accusations listed in the “Shitty Media Men” list, that these are glaringly honest portrayals of Stein’s priorities at the helm of the Paris Review. Unfortunately.
Also unfortunate was the error in Bosman’s piece naming Stein as the third editor to “hold the title in the magazine’s 58-year history, and the second to follow George Plimpton, himself a legendary New York social figure.” Stein was actually the fourth. Brigid Hughes, the editor who succeeded George Plimpton, had been inexplicably left out of the profile. She was also not mentioned in the piece announcing Stein’s successorship of Philip Gourevitch; although there was no factual error, she was simply ignored.
Six years ago novelist Antoine Wilson wrote an email to Bosman explaining the need for a correction to the piece, as did at least one other celebrated writer, as did blogger Edward Champion, who tweeted about it at the time. Bosman rejected the requests, pointing to the Paris Review’s own exclusion of Hughes on its masthead in support of her decision.
On Monday, December 11, I sent Bosman an email for a fact check. I asked about her email from Wilson, pointing out that her piece was now out of step with the other pieces regarding the magazine’s editorial leadership. She responded that she didn’t remember the exchange (as it turns out, she didn’t respond to Wilson, but she responded to Champion and the other writer), and added, “Thanks for letting me know of this. We’ll correct the piece asap — I’m writing an editor right now. I’ll be happy to see the record corrected on this one.”
And now, as of earlier this week, it has been corrected and is on the record at the New York Times: Stein is the fourth editor of the Paris Review, not the third. He succeeded Philip Gourevitch, who succeeded Hughes, who was appointed the second-ever editor of the magazine after Plimpton’s death (and was the first female head editor of the magazine in its then 51-year history), as was mentioned in the profile of her that ran, upon her appointment, in the New York Times.
In the 2005 Times announcement of Gourevitch’s appointment as editor written by Edward Wyatt, Hughes is described as having succeeded Plimpton as “top editor.” But since then, her name had been excluded from discussion of the Paris Review in not only the New York Times but also in the New Yorker, and in a wide range of articles, announcements, interviews, profiles and biographies relating to the Paris Review’s editors, from a variety of publications in print and online.
The Review’s Wikipedia page was also edited to remove her multiple times, as I saw in screenshots forwarded to me. A particularly interesting example of this occurred in 2005, when a user removed Hughes from the magazine’s expanded page. The reasoning? “For clarity,” the user posted. A month later, another user at a different IP address overturned that change and reinstated Hughes. She remained in the Review‘s Wiki annals until early 2011, when yet another user at yet another IP address struck her from the page. She wouldn’t return until November 2017, one month before Stein’s resignation. Hughes didn’t even have her own Wikipedia entry noting her role or the fact that she publishes an 11-year-old magazine called A Public Space, which has debuted many writers who have gone on to have incredible careers, including Leslie Jamison, Nam Le and MacArthur Fellow and two-time National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward. She and the magazine have vigorously supported a diverse group of emerging writers including Roxane Gay, Teju Cole, Garth Greenwell, Sara Majka, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, Marie NDiaye, Kelly Link and Amy Leach. She has a new publishing imprint, APS Books, and through a separate partnership with Graywolf Press, she published Dorthe Nors’ first book in English, among other titles.
This erasure of Hughes created challenges for her when trying to represent her career accomplishments, biography, and history as the head of a new magazine. I saw it firsthand time and time again as a volunteer editor of A Public Space, when we were doing the day-to-day business of a small magazine most people hadn’t heard of, when she would carefully step around conversations that might make it necessary to explain her previous job as editor of the Paris Review. It took me no imagination at all to envision how much easier it would be for us to promote, fundraise, launch creative collaborations and initiatives, and attract high-quality writing, for A Public Space if the Paris Review hadn’t effectively snuffed her out as Plimpton’s successor. How much easier would it have been if they regularly acknowledged her contributions and had been proud to tout her as its second — and first female — editor?
For nearly a decade, the Plimpton, Gourevitch, Stein lineage was simply taken as fact. It effectively stripped Hughes of her significant contributions to the magazine where she had spent her entire career before her termination, which included serving as managing editor for a dozen issues beginning with issue 155 in Summer 2000 and ending with issue 167 in Fall 2003, before taking over and producing issue 168 in Winter 2003.
The news of Stein’s resignation, and the terrible reasons for it, sent me quickly to a place of anger and sadness for women across all professional fields. This wouldn’t have happened if Hughes had been left alone to do her job, I thought. This irrepressible anger left me unable to focus on finishing my overdue book, and finally, I decided to tweet about it. I subtweeted first, perhaps thinking it would relieve my anger. But it didn’t. I wrote the next morning, “I woke up still mad.” By afternoon, I was livid again. I started to tweet a thread of Hughes’ erasure as well as I could recall it from memory.
I thought about how the award-winning writer Yiyun Li was plucked for the first time from the slush pile for the Paris Review and published by Hughes, and how I had never heard anyone at the Paris Review give Hughes credit for championing her. I noticed announcements about putting their phenomenal Writers at Work interview archives online, but no mention that Hughes had launched the endeavor. Then there was the issue of her lack of acknowledgment anytime one of her successors was described as second and third editor.
I listened to a Los Angeles Review of Books podcast that aired this past summer in which writer Tom Lutz interviewed Lorin Stein. “You’re following on the heels on some of the great editors of their day,” Lutz comments. “This was a daunting task, I assume, stepping into those shoes.”
“Well.” Stein pauses for effect. “Yeah. In a funny way, George Plimpton edited the magazine from 1953 until he died in 2003, and then Philip Gourevitch, uh, terrific reporter, did it for five years and then quit to write a book, so I’m number three, and Philip really, that was hard, what Philip had to do because George Plimpton — Norman Mailer called him the most loved man in New York, but he was not just in New York, people worship him, rightly so.”
Maybe it’s just me, but somehow I think what Brigid Hughes had to do was harder. She dared to step in shoes that were a man’s.
What I see when I add this all up is more than negligence or a careless disregard. It’s a total dismissal of the steady and focused hand she offered the Paris Review after Plimpton died unexpectedly and the staff and board mourned their longtime editor, an institutional and American icon.
For nearly a decade, the Plimpton, Gourevitch, Stein lineage was simply taken as fact. It effectively stripped Hughes of her significant contributions to the magazine where she had spent her entire career.
My Twitter thread began, “I’m going to show you how a woman is erased from her job. First, it begins with her existence. In January 2004 @parisreview managing editor Brigid Hughes was named editor to succeed George Plimpton and the @nytimes profiled her.” The thread went viral, leading to a live BuzzFeed News appearance on Twitter the next day, and that led to this piece.
There are errors in my thread. But generally, it is accurate. And my requests for corrections from the New York Times and the New Yorker were responded to very quickly, from the first tweet in the thread, to the correction in the piece, two hours elapsed, the full correction at the bottom of the piece was posted within the next hour. Once I mentioned him in the thread, Gourevitch was also in contact with me very quickly, following me on Twitter and asking to talk. The speed at which this happened was unreal.
Within hours and over the next day, I received five offers to write about my thread and for a live television interview request. A request from Gourevitch to talk over the phone slid into my DMs quickly after I tagged him in the thread requesting for a correction to his New Yorker staff bio. This was not anything I expected, but at some point I realized, I had picked a battle, a good one, it appeared, and I had to clear my schedule, and report on Hughes’s erasure. I am not, by trade, an investigative journalist. But there I was, in the middle of the night, taking a call from Gourevitch — author of, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, one of the most powerful books of investigative journalism I have ever read — while he was on a reporting trip in Africa. It was bewildering.
I had one question for Gourevitch, which he answered promptly and on the record. I asked, “Did you succeed Brigid Hughes as editor of the Paris Review? Or did you succeed George Plimpton?” He responded, “Brigid Hughes edited the Paris Review after George Plimpton, and I edited the Paris Review after Brigid Hughes. It was a badly handled succession. On Brigid’s watch, George, who was dead, still led the masthead as editor, while she was listed in second place as executive editor. I can’t account for this untenable fiction. You’d have to ask the board what the deal was, or ask her. I wasn’t there until after Brigid was fired, and there was a search, and I applied and was hired, to fill George’s position as editor. There’s the rub, and I’ve gladly fixed my old bio so that it no longer echoes that vexed transition.”
It was, indeed, a vexed transition. The executive editor title the board saddled Hughes with can easily be viewed now as a hedge that made it much easier to oust her and erase her — it was a complicated debate, there was a lot of discussion of retiring the title of “editor” with Plimpton, something former board member Jeanne “Jay” McCulloch confirmed, insisting it wasn’t meant to diminish Hughes. In that context, it is more understandable why Hughes might have agreed to the title. A profile with her college alumni magazine in 2004, describes her as declining to take Plimpton’s title, “in part because George actually shared the title of editor with a long list of people.”
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According to a former board member, there were two factions on the board following Plimpton’s death, and obviously, the one that appointed Hughes had more power at first. But as soon as Hughes was named to succeed Plimpton, receiving her Times profile, there were “powerful movers and shakers in the literary world, and they exerted influence continuously until they got their way.” Those voices, the former board member said, were led by the late Bob Silvers, who wanted an “NYRB or New Yorker type guy.” Hughes was in the midst of publishing her first full issue around the time that Silvers-led faction started maneuvering to limit her tenure to a year. Eventually, they pulled enough board members over to their side. She was seemingly never judged by the board on the merit of her work as Plimpton’s replacement.
They got their Plimpton-esque editor in Stein, but not so much in Gourevitch, although part of the reason Gourevitch was hired appears to have been his renown. Renown didn’t mesh with what Plimpton envisioned, though. The former board member explained that Plimpton believed he had made his best contributions to the magazine as a young person. “The thing they didn’t get was George was hands off in editing and liked to have young staff — it wasn’t just about gender, but also privilege, and seniority. George didn’t want to tap the person who had been around the longest. He wanted to tap the person who had the freshest vision.” They added, “He would have fallen like a dead tree in this whole culture of [calling out] sexual harassment.”
Considering this piece wouldn’t exist without Stein’s resignation, which relates to sexual harassment, I don’t want to overlook this. As I was tweeting about Hughes’ erasure, I saw writer Maris Kreizman tweet, “George Plimpton sexually harassed me at my first book party in New York City and at the time I looked at it as a rite of passage.”
The erasure of Hughes from The Paris Review created challenges when she tried to represent her career accomplishments, biography, and history as the head of a new magazine, A Public Space.
It’s clear when he applied for the job, Gourevitch was in the dark about the mess the board left for him in Hughes’ dismissal and didn’t at the time know the details of Hughes’ termination. It’s clear Gourevitch was in an awkward position, sandwiched between two editors who were famous for throwing Paris Review parties and carousing at them. It is also clear that Hughes was dropped from the masthead entirely during his editorship, but it’s not completely clear to me who participated in that decision. What should be crystal clear by now is Gourevitch managed to live with the untenable fiction of being erroneously called the second editor of the Paris Review for over a decade, and Stein managed to live with being called the third.
Since my tweets went viral, the Paris Review has also fairly quickly addressed the issue with Hughes’ erasure, albeit elliptically. In an announcement the board of directors published on Wednesday, December 6 about Stein’s resignation, they said, “Going forward, the past editors of the Review will be recognized on the masthead.”
It’s not quite clear what or who this addresses, as Hughes is on the masthead of the review at present, but, then, who else would it be referring to? She was put back on the masthead following a request to Stein from Antoine Wilson written in 2011 around the the time of Stein’s party-boy profile. Stein responded to Wilson:
Dear Mr Wilson,
Thank you for your thoughtful letter — I’m sorry not to have written back
sooner. I absolutely agree that Brigid belongs on the masthead, and your
letter helped persuade our publisher. (This was not the first time the
question had come up.) So thank you for that too. You’ll see the change in
our fall issue.
In that fall issue, Stein returned Hughes to the masthead, but awkwardly. Even still, she is not given the successorship that Gourevitch confirms. Instead she is placed under the names of Gourevitch and Stein, not next to Plimpton’s, and with the problematic executive editor title used as a kind of asterisk. At the time of Stein’s response to Wilson, Antonio Weiss was the magazine’s publisher. Weiss, former finance executive, counselor to the Treasury secretary and husband to the Paris Review‘s current publisher, demurred repeatedly when asked to comment on Wilson’s letter, merely saying, “I would refer you to Terry McDonell, who is president of the board.”
The first question I asked McDonell, former editor of the Time Inc. Sports Group, was if, in his view, Brigid succeeded Plimpton or Gourevitch succeeded Plimpton.
“Oh, Brigid. Brigid did,” he answered.
“If that was the case,” I asked, “then why was Brigid Hughes completely dropped from the masthead of the Paris Review after she left?”
He responded, “I don’t know that. It makes no sense to me. Certainly, if she was left off it would have been a mistake. I’m sorry, I guess, about that. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to mastheads. In my view if we were listing previous editors, she should have been on there, then Brigid should have been listed.”
So I asked him whose mistake it had been to leave her off, and he said he didn’t know. “But I will say the editors of the Paris Review generally have a lot of autonomy,” he added.
Gourevitch responded by email to a request for a comment on the masthead following my conversation with McDonell. “The only page I did not have autonomy on, as editor, was the masthead, and specifically the bottom part of the masthead, which listed figures from the magazine’s past. It was, and remains, my view that a masthead should credit those involved with the current issue, and there’s no reason for it to serve as a mausoleum for their predecessors. Until a few years before I came, the Review’s masthead listed every former poetry and arts editor and many, many more people long gone from its operations. Either George or Brigid or both had removed all of them before I came, and I sought to continue this streamlining, but several board members insisted on including founders and former publishers and several chosen ‘editors emeriti.’ Nobody on the board included Brigid. There had never been a line for former editors before my time, and we didn’t add one. This was not a maneuver to ‘remove’ or ‘erase’ Brigid. As I say, I see no reason that I or any other formers should be on the masthead today.”
McDonell asked me to talk to Jay McCulloch, suggesting she would have a better idea of the masthead and the decision-making regarding Hughes’ termination. McCulloch was a board member of the Review at the time of Plimpton’s death and had also served as managing editor for several years in the mid-1980s before becoming editor-at-large, before going on to help launch the literary quarterly Tin House and their imprint Tin House Books. McCulloch also didn’t know or remember why Hughes was left off the masthead when Gourevitch succeeded Hughes, except that Gourevitch had been given some room to make changes.
What’s clear, though, and cuts through this mental haze, is that following Plimpton’s death, the board realized this was a moment to tweak the Paris Review. While the magazine had certainly been successful — at least in terms of critical acclaim — this was an opportunity to cement the title’s status for the long haul, to create a magazine that could potentially withstand any and all outside pressures, like a New York Review of Books or a title from Time Inc.’s stable. Whereas Hughes, who had put in the time and effort and deserved the promotion, was going to first and foremost hew to the standards set by Plimpton. “Brigid was going to continue to be slush pile oriented,” says a former editor, “and follow that old Paris Review model of looking for innovative voices and discovering someone that has never been found — and not someone just waiting to ride their crest to shore.”
After wading through a masthead with hundreds of changes over the course of several decades, and speaking with many board members and editors on the record and on background, I don’t have any evidence of malicious intent in removing her from the masthead, although many board members are deceased and thus can’t be asked. What instead comes across is an incongruity of vision and communication between the editor and board, about the Paris Review’s identity after Plimpton’s death as communicated by masthead — which could be forgiven if it hadn’t taken 24 issues to add Hughes back, and even then only after outcry from outside the office. What Hughes appears to have done for them was exactly the opposite, offering careful and congruous leadership during a period of grief. She was their anchor, and they cast her aside. It might be out there, but I have not found a single interview with her editorial successors that praises her contributions during this time. (They all have plenty to say about Plimpton.) And her removal from their masthead, while some other former editors were left, allowed assumptions to be made about her successorship by writers and editors at major newspapers and media outlets around the world. It also allowed for the order of succession to be erroneously presented without question, and trumpeted proudly, particularly by Stein. What grave offense had Hughes committed to deserve this erasure? Everything right. As McCulloch said, “Hughes was a modest, and capable, and talented person. She did do amazing things there.”
Despite what must be complete disappointment and frustration about what happened to her and her staff, while I was in the offices of A Public Space, I never heard Hughes complain. Early on, her staff and supporters would from time to time, but she would rarely chime in. She worked with what she had, fought for respect based on the work and looked ahead. Every now and then I would learn a detail or two about her dismissal. I specifically remember her sharing that she did not know the appointment would only be for a year when she accepted the job. But only a few months after her promotion, Hughes and the magazine’s staff began to see the writing on the wall. Because of this, the last issue Hughes produced as editor garnered the nickname “the Omega Issue” among staff — most of whom would soon depart with Hughes — after a Rick Moody short story in its pages titled “The Omega Force.”
“It was dark humor,” said a former staff member. “But not everyone was laughing.”
Hughes’ job, despite her title of “executive editor,” was not an interim position, as many have suggested to me might have been the case, including several post-Hughes Paris Review editorial staff members. In 2011, Greg Brock, senior editor for standards at the New York Times, wrote to a writer who requested a correction, “Ms. Bosman’s article correctly reflects the information given out by the Paris Review. She checked it before she wrote the article.” Brock then sent a link to the Review’s masthead before rationalizing that the Times’ use of “top editor” to describe Hughes’ removal as editor in 2005 might not be in conflict with her complete erasure from the editorial lineup in their profile of Stein. He continued, “I will also again check Mr. Wyatt’s reference in 2005. His article said that Ms. Hughes succeeded Mr. Plimpton in 2004. Perhaps there was a distinction in her contract; perhaps she was an interim editor, which is why the Review does not list her as a past editor. Or perhaps she was the ‘top editor,’ as Mr. Wyatt wrote, in the sense that she was running the show, whether interim or permanent.”
What Hughes appears to have done for the Review was to offer a careful and congruous leadership during a period of grief. She was their anchor, and they cast her aside.
There are so many problems with this rationalization. It seems highly unlikely that the New York Times would have run a significant profile and announcement touting her as the new editor had it been understood by Hughes and the Paris Review that she was holding an “interim” appointment.
I have not seen any follow-up emails from Brock, but if any further check was made, it did not conflict with their decision at the time. What happened to change the New York Times’ mind, six years later? Has it finally woken? Has it woken, at this incredible moment in time, to the fact that a woman’s professional contributions are easily manipulated and discouraged by men in power? That it needs to fact-check information provided to them by organizations with historically high percentages of male members on their boards?
It’s no wonder I couldn’t concentrate on the news of Stein’s resignation, partly because I knew of so many previous attempts to set the record straight.
In October 2005, former managing editor and Paris Review editor at large Elizabeth Gaffney spoke to NPR about changes to the magazine, defending Hughes from the board that essentially fired her, after the first issue produced by Gourevitch led to concern the magazine would be less focused on fiction and poetry and would move in a more mainstream direction. She noted that the year Hughes was forced out, the magazine had been nominated for the National Magazine Award for Fiction, and that the year Plimpton died, they had been nominated as well.
When I asked Gaffney to recall Hughes’ erasure and termination, she sent me a link to the NPR piece, writing, “Speaking of erasures, I talked about all this to Tom Vitali for an NPR piece on the succession, and then the old boys / founders pitched a fit and had NPR publish an apology for the story!” The apology is posted online with the transcript, the substance of which only mentions Gourevitch’s complaint about the balance of fiction to nonfiction in his first issue. There is also an irony here, given the recent allegations of sexual harassment of female employees at NPR. It is clear who has had the power to write history.
Gaffney then explained to me over email how Hughes was forced out, including a key piece of information: Plimpton wanted Hughes to succeed him and entrusted Gaffney to make it happen.
I hired Brigid as an intern at the magazine when I was managing editor, shortly before I became editor-at-large and went part-time to focus on my writing. After George died, there were a series of board meetings to make decisions about the future of the Paris Review. All the names they floated for possible editors were men. Early on, they wanted John Jeremiah Sullivan. I had been asked by George to represent his wishes to the board if he should be “run over by a bus” — which was how he always imagined his demise.
I made it clear that Brigid was his chosen successor and that I strongly supported her appointment on the basis of the amazing job she had been doing. Early on, there was enough support for her. But the old boy faction of the board swayed a number of the board members who had supported Brigid initially toward hiring a “Young Turk.” Read: male. I got taken out to a very ugly lunch by [Bob] Silvers, [Tom] Guinzburg, and [Jim] Goodale and told to resign from the board, but I refused, because I thought we still had a majority of people behind Brigid. I continued lobbying. One day at the office, I found out that a fundraiser was going to a board meeting I didn’t know about. As a member of the board, I should have been invited to every meeting, but it turned out Silvers and co. had swayed some of the women on the board to their side. They had planned to vote me out at this meeting, in my absence. I crashed the meeting, made a defiant and ineffectual speech about George’s vision for the Review, and was summarily voted off the board. Then, I resigned from my post as editor-at-large, and Deborah Pease, our former publisher and a major benefactor, resigned as well. It was some months before the board appointed Gourevitch.
Another editor of the Review during Hughes’ tenure, who requested anonymity, wrote to me with recollections that support Gaffney’s story:
The Paris Review board was created a few years before George died solely so that the magazine could become a nonprofit. George didn’t want anyone telling him what to do — he just wanted tax-free status. So the board members were picked with the expectation they’d be hands-off. Mainly they were George’s friends, men of his generation he hung out with regularly, like Peter Matthiessen and Tom Guinzburg.
Then George died and the board realized that the magazine’s future was up for grabs, at which point they became more assertive. These were the people who dismissed Brigid, and they weren’t all men, although the nucleus had a decidedly male flavor. I remember coming out of a meeting once with Matthiessen, Terry McDonell, and Bob Silvers, a group that radiated testosterone, thinking, “Oh, shit, we’re in trouble, because whatever their politics or intentions, this was the old boy school of publishing, and that’s not Brigid.”
Over the phone, the editor acknowledged somewhat legitimate concerns the board had about their wanting “a public figure” — that Hughes’ low visibility was a concern given the magazine’s fundraising needs — before adding, “The real injustice is how they treated her afterward. It was beyond shabby and beyond conspicuous. You go back and look at the issues she did and they were outstanding.”
This concern about Hughes’ experience came up with McCulloch, who took issue with Hughes’ termination having anything to do with her being a woman. She said, “As far as I know, and I know a lot about the magazine, it had nothing to do with her gender. … There was a sense that she’d only ever worked at the Paris Review, and these were huge shoes to fill, so maybe someone more seasoned should come in. It went from being a mom-and-pop organization to something else. We were going to grow an endowment.”
There are those shoes again! Those huge shoes to fill. (I know a bit about editorial footwear dilemmas at the Paris Review. Stein once edited my Converse sneakers I described myself wearing into Converse high heels. I edited my sneakers back.)
Here’s how I parse all this now. There is disagreement about whether it had to do with her gender, and despite editing six issues, she was seen by the board as unseasoned and not fitting into shoes, except that she fit great and stepped right into his shoes, but they determined to go a different route, they were deciding to evolve. I asked McDonell about evolution, if he thought the Review needed to evolve? He responded, “I always have thoughts about how magazines evolve. If they don’t evolve they die.”
There was an apparent concern that in light of her youth and lack of experience, Hughes was not the right person to “evolve” with the magazine, despite her excellent editorial work and her confidence in her ability to fill Plimpton’s shoes. When we spoke, McCulloch praised her for “being up for it.” In other words, she was treated like a young woman. Young women work very hard at the Paris Review, for what appears to be very little credit. They have held the magazine together during times of editorial upheaval, but with the exception of Hughes, were never tapped as head editor.
I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that my thread about Hughes came from a place of anger after learning about Stein’s resignation after women accused him of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct. Too many former board members I spoke with were confused about why I had linked Hughes’s leaving to Stein’s termination. The connection has to do with power and how it is influenced. I can’t say it better than Rebecca Traister did this week in The Cut: “Women’s access to work and to power within their workplaces is curtailed, often via the very same mechanisms that promote, protect, and forgive men, the systems that give them double, triple chances to advance, and to abuse those around them, over and over again.” These are the same patriarchal mechanisms allowing for Hughes to be erased and for Stein to take advantage of his staff. Both do an incredible disservice to the Paris Review’s editors and the excellent writers and issues the magazine has produced across all four editorships.
Here is how former board member, the late Peter Matthiessen viewed the “outstanding” issues as well as the decision to oust Hughes, which also happens to corroborate the former staff and board members’ recollections. As he put it in the NPR segment, “These people were perfectly able to bring out an issue, but we needed somebody with more — you’re not gonna replace Plimpton. You’re not gonna replace the social graces and the sense of humor, but you do need somebody who’s willing to take chances and turn things around and shake it up where it’s gotten kind of stodgy, which I think it had.”
I wish I could ask Matthiessen today, “Whatever could be stodgy about an unusually high number of women writers in the first issue that was wholly executed under the new and first female editor’s leadership?”
Over time, the effect of Hughes’ erasure calcified a false history of the magazine’s editorial lineage that did not include its first female editor. This impacts all women in the literary community who seek to be taken as seriously and as celebrated for their work as male colleagues and bosses, many if not most of whom dream of rising to the position of head editors of distinguished magazines. It also has the effect of continuing to perpetuate a mythology of the magazine as a boys’ club, led by men, where women do most of the heavy lifting under the managing editor title, and who are never given a true chance to be promoted to head editor.
Young women work very hard at the Paris Review, for what appears to be very little credit. They have held the magazine together during times of editorial upheaval, but with the exception of Hughes, were never tapped as head editor.
The vast majority of managing editors at the Paris Review in the past three decades have been female. It’s worth mentioning that Caitlin Roper, who was managing editor under Gourevitch, put out an issue in between Gourevitch and Stein. It was announced yesterday that the current managing editor, Nicole Rudick, will serve as interim editor, and she will apparently put out an issue as well. They deserve to be noticed for their efforts.
From the looks of it, “top editor” isn’t in the cards for women serving as managing editors at the Paris Review. Hughes got the promotion, had it rescinded after over a year, and then watched her work be erased. Imagine being treated that way by the only place you had ever worked so far, where you started as an intern and eventually made your way to head editor, succeeding Plimpton?
For a decade the Plimpton, Gourevitch, Stein lineage was simply taken as fact. In addition to publishing excellent work, Hughes’ second issue — the first she had full autonomy of — published a nearly 50-50 gender split. In fact, the Paris Review has a fraught and problematic history of publishing women, as noted by the Vida count, an annual survey of the gender balance in magazines, which started tracking publications in 2009, and which Jennifer Weiner and Roxane Gay were both quick to point out on Twitter following news of Stein’s resignation.
I tried in several different emails over several days to get Hughes to respond to me about the New York Times’s corrections and to see if she had any thoughts about my thread. She didn’t reply after an initial acknowledgement that she knew of the developments. I sent questions and requests to talk anyway. I knew it was unlikely that she wanted to address it. Finally, after speaking with Gourevitch, I remembered I had her cell phone number and sent off a burst of pleading texts. The next day I received a reply by email with the subject line, “Please include entirety of my statement.” She wrote,
I want the record to be correct, but more so I hope what is most important does not get lost in this conversation.
I served as the editor of the Paris Review, succeeding George Plimpton, and filling the same editorial role he did. After my acceptance of the editor position, which was not interim, a contract was drawn up, and the word “executive” was introduced for the first time. During my tenure those two titles — editor and executive editor — were used interchangeably to describe my role, which beyond the ideas behind titles was focused on a transition, a magazine to edit, and the establishment of an online archive of the Writers at Work interviews. The work was what mattered. The Paris Review is the collective legacy of amazing editors, writers, staff, and board members. I wish the magazine well.
I will offer one last observation. The survival and success of A Public Space required stubbornness and hard work and the support of many talented people who worked without accolades. I know the same is true of numerous independent magazines and presses, many of which are led by superb pioneering women, and who are publishing excellent work under difficult circumstances. They could also provide enlightening experiences of their own to be shared. It is my hope that in these seismic times, while overdue change is pursued, we continue to support works of art, and to sustain the best work of writers and editors regardless of the level of exposure they have attained.
I reached out to Stein via an intermediary to discuss Hughes’ return to the masthead, but I have yet to receive a reply. I have listened to comments about the facts of Hughes’ firing that were first on the record, but later retracted. People are still afraid of repercussions for talking honestly and openly about what happened to Hughes. There are now two New York Times corrections, a change in a staff bio at the New Yorker, and an announcement from the Paris Review that suggests Hughes will be properly listed on the masthead in the future. Hughes has been returned to the Paris Review Wikipedia page, and now has her own Wikipedia page that needs fleshing out. She also has this piece to help correct the record and add details to her editorial history at both of her magazines.
What else is there to say, but that I’m biased? I am a woman who has worked in an unpaid role for A Public Space on and off for the last decade, with the unflagging support and encouragement in my own professional endeavors from Hughes, even after she witnessed my failures. I’ve watched her never, ever seek any amount of limelight for herself, only for her authors. She deserved this acknowledgment for her own accomplishments a long time ago. A delightful discovery emerged while I was sharing news of the New York Times’s correction on my Facebook page. Novelist Marlon James chimed in: “Oh my god I remember when all of this happened. Mostly because Brigid was an early champion of my work back when absolutely no one cared and was set to publish me for the first time. Then they fired her and that was that.” A Public Space deserves to be famous for its excellence. I’ve written this sentence before for Longreads, but I want to write it again: If we write women out of history, we never know the truth of things.
The truth is that Brigid Hughes is an exceptional literary editor of our times. She deserves to be famous, too, for her sustained support of excellent writing, even if she isn’t a gregarious literary man-about-town who throws wild parties. Young Turks be damned.
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A.N. Devers is a critic, arts journalist, and rare book dealer. She is the author Train, forthcoming from Bloomsbury in 2018. She is the international contributing editor at A Public Space and is based in London.
Additional reporting by Matt Giles.