Q&A: PHILIP GOUREVITCH
Highlights from Issue 22: The Downfall of American Publishing
Philip Gourevitch, editor of The Paris Review / Spring 2005
Photograph by WARREN DARIUS AFTAHI
Monday, August 29, 2005
Q&A: PHILIP GOUREVITCH (EXCERPT)
This spring, Gourevitch became only the third editor in the 52-year history of The Paris Review, following the departure of Brigid Hughes, who initially took over the editorial reins after the death of George Plimpton in September 2003. Gourevitch is the author of two books of nonfiction, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda and A Cold Case (Picador).
Stop Smiling: How do you think the media has portrayed your editorship?
Philip Gourevitch: Following the death of George Plimpton, who had led, edited and personified The Paris Review for a long time, I think there was a kind of open question in the press of “Would it survive?” This was true among people involved with the magazine, as well as with people who looked at it entirely from the outside. Should it survive? Overwhelmingly the response following his death was, “Yes, it should and let's see how it will.” When it became unclear whether anybody knew quite what to do next I think the press sensed blood in the water — mostly we're talking about blogs here. The fact of the matter is that whatever troubles The Paris Review had in its transition, I truly didn't know much about them when I became a candidate for the editorship.
SS: How were you notified about this position? How did you come to get the job?
PG: My wife was an intern here years ago, so she knew people who were still in the orbit of The Review. A couple of them mentioned they were looking for a new editor. One or two people had said, “What about you?” Then I started to think about it more and realized it was something I could do well. I inquired into what was going on with the search, and I was encouraged to send in a letter about what I had in mind. I did and they responded well to it.
SS: So this was a rather quick process?
PG: I think I got in really late. Honestly, I had no idea about the whole formal structure of the thing. Then I sat down and wrote the letter, and I started to get pretty fired up about it. Basically that led to sustained conversations with the search committee and the larger board until I was hired three weeks later.
SS: Was that the big dilemma — not so much with Brigid Hughes leaving after a year — but in general, how to fill the void of George Plimpton?
PG: George Plimpton had this wonderful balance between being iconoclastic on one level, and on another level, everybody's image of an establishment figure. He was at home in the world. There was something playful and there was something enormously, generously big-hearted and open-door about his whole approach to literature. It was almost always a celebration without ever sacrificing seriousness. That's something a lot of people find tricky. The world is often divided between serious people, who are grumpy critics, and frivolous people who are blithe appreciators. George was both — he was iconoclastic without being controversial.
SS: Trying to blend humor with seriousness, and also literature — isn't that the goal of The Paris Review?
PG: They belong together. I think one shouldn't have to try too hard. I have no interest in trying to imitate George Plimpton or trying to be a new George Plimpton, because that would be false and impossible. But I'm comfortable lending my sense of character to this thing. I took this job to make some great issues, and put out a great magazine. I'm excited and I think a lot of people are excited here. The great thing is that there may have been a period of figuring out how to move the thing forward, but the amount of goodwill here at every level and at every concentric circle, from the very inner core to the outermost readership of The Paris Review, is astonishing.
The complete interview with Philip Gourevitch appears in Issue 22: The Downfall of American Publishing