Behind the Scenes at Archives: an Appreciation of Naomi Noble Richard
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Behind the Scenes at Archives: an Appreciation of Naomi Noble Richard

The management of Archives is hardly arcane, but it may not be wholly transparent to readers or even to our authors. It relies on a division of responsibilities. The editorial board solicits, evaluates, and selects the articles, tries to keep the journal aligned with new research directions and new technologies, and worries about its fiscal future. The press designs, prints, distributes, and markets the final product. The editor occupies the crucial, scary space in between, a place where there can be, in the immortal words of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, “a great confusion as to where things really are, and nobody will really know where lieth those little things.” For the last sixteen years, Naomi Richard has been our editor, and she has always known where the little things “lieth,” not to mention how they should lie.

From the time she came on board, Naomi set the style for Archives, and this style has not only given the journal a distinctive character but has also been an attraction for authors in search of a publication venue. Authors familiar with her work hope she will edit theirs because they know she will treat it with respect and they will learn from the process. Being edited by Naomi is like taking a master class in writing, with everything considered, from the logic of your argument to a given turn of phrase. She can smooth the rough edges of linguistic admixtures, untangle wayward paragraphs and suggest just the right word to make an idea shine. She is the Zhongkui of problematic prose, the dispeller of all written infelicities.

For Naomi, the process is as important as the product. There has been hair tearing, to be sure, and pithy comments about authors who submit and run, sometimes disappearing for months beyond the reaches of modern technology, leaving behind unfinished footnotes and Sanskrit sans diacritical marks. But the storms are weathered, i’s are dotted and t’s crossed, and the authors become cherished friends, recipients of inside jokes and messages signed “n.”

We met once for lunch in New York, then again for a meeting at Asia Society. Otherwise, because I live in Kansas, our relationship has been built on long phone calls and many, many emails. I find hard to believe that we have only met in person twice because such a strong sense of presence comes through her writing, with its extraordinary combination of wit, vocabulary, and deities invoked in various languages. Email subject lines like “burning (well, simmering) indignation” and “another possible kerfuffle” compel you to open the messages immediately. Her valedictions are funny and kind. Sometimes she signs off “ccc,” meaning “confront chaos calmly,” but the acronym “ffe,” referring to the Japanese New Year’s dream of “Fuji, a falcon, and an eggplant,” is more common. One day, however, the closing line of a message about a wayward author read “Fuji, Falcon, Eggplant, and Krakatoa.” When I asked about the additional word, I was informed, “Krakatoa is what explodes if one disrespects one’s editor.” Along with the jokes have come words of wisdom from a remarkable range of sources, Han Yu to Hercule Poirot, occasional political commentary, updates on beloved grandson Ben, and a stories about a series of highly individual cats, Cherubino, Rubatummy, and Headlamps. Thus I can always “see” Naomi. After she, husband Joe, and the cats moved to Colorado in the summer of 2008, she wrote: “The books are all shelved. The cartons are gone. So is much of the dust. So is my miasma of gloom and nostalgia, altho’ I still haven’t gotten quite to the point of calling it ‘home.’ That will come.”

Naomi Richard shepherded Archives through difficult transitions, the journal’s and her own. She weathered the trials and tribulations of changing publishers, as well as her own move over half way across the country. She stayed with Archives long after it was convenient or financially reasonable to do so out of loyalty to Asian art, especially the art of Japan, and to her friends who write about it. The journal and the...