|[b] Foundations RF|
We left things with the end of Week Five, having completed Brendan Gill's detailed account of his many years at The New Yorker, and having read the December 1941 and August 1945 issues of the magazine. As we enter the territory I have described as "the middle," we are nearing the week-long autumn break, and it is necessary to make sure our foundations are strong enough to sustain a full week away from classes. By the time students have finished Brendan Gill's Here at the New Yorker and read full months of issues from 1925, 1929, 1936, 1941, and 1945, they will be ready to power into the midterm break with the kind of momentum than can be carried right to the other side. "Halfway" means nothing, as we have discussed.
Week Six begins with perhaps the only New Yorker issues in this course that are not linked specifically to a pivotal event of one kind or another. "Nothing happened" in July 1955, and it is a good time to enjoy four straight issues of the magazine that are not fraught with tension in the aftermath of a major national or world event. The biggest change in the magazine for us by this point is that, after 1951, The New Yorker was being managed and edited by Mr. William Shawn, who was to remain at the helm of the magazine for thirty-six years. Harold Ross had died in 1951, and the transition to Shawn, while not seamless, was powerful and lasting. By 1955, the magazine was his, and he had begun to shape a new generation of writers, even as he maintained the quality of veterans such as A.J. Liebling, E.B. White, and James Thurber.
Ironically enough, after two straight books—over the course of four weeks—that provide a fully history of the magazine, right up until the present, we now will turn to three more weeks that backtrack to the detailed story of Harold Ross, The New Yorker's founder and editor for a quarter century. Beginning in Week Six, we will read Thomas Kunkel's Genius in Disguise: Harold Ross of The New Yorker. This 1995 biography takes the reader (that's us) through Ross's entire life, including the thirty-two years he spent before founding The New Yorker and pushing it into the forefront of American letters. During the week, we will read about not only Ross's youth, but his education and, especially, the entrepreneurial imagination that launched one of the nation's great magazines.
|[c] Span RF|
We will also read a distinctly sobering month of New Yorker publications. The month on the syllabus is December 1963, and national mourning will blanket the magazine, even as the editor, William Shawn, worked to keep his agenda of lively nonfiction and reporting at the forefront of the magazine. It takes some serious reading-between-the-lines to see this editorial contrast during a month as difficult as that containing the Kennedy assassination. It will show precisely the relationship between a horrific national tragedy and Mr. Shawn's (channeling Harold Ross's) goals for a magazine, which he hoped would be so influential that it could transcend "the news." Only a few months in the publication's history would challenge the line between world events and great nonfiction that has nothing to do with them. We will reading them all (1929, 1941, 1963, and 2001). This month was one of the hardest.
We'll learn a lot, and we will be in good shape if students have a solid sense of American history in the twentieth century, a very good knowledge of The New Yorker's literary past, and an extraordinary understanding of the management and editing skills of the magazine's founder, Harold Ross. They will write one more "Talk of the Town" essay and put together a little sketch (turning them in by the end of classes on Friday, October 12th). Their skill level by mid-October, after doing seven such assignments up until that time, will have built to a point well beyond "just o.k." Most students will be on their way to writing and reporting with confidence and precision.
|[d] Exploration RF|
I am counting on them bringing a copy of The New Yorker with them, but I will also be recommending lots of sleep. They'll need to be rested when they get back, because they will head right into the middle of the middle—the all-important midterm assignment that will set the tone for the remainder of the class.
We'll cover the midterm assignment tomorrow, and then wrap up this series of posts.
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