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An Interview with C. Michael Curtis / Bob Shacochis C. Michael Curtis is a Senior Editor for The Atlantic Monthly. Interviewer: Let's begin with this: What distinguishes The Atlantic Monthly from other mass market general interest magazines? And then, what distinguishes the fiction in AM from that in other commercial magazines publishing fiction? Curtis: That's an interesting question and of course an Atlantic editor isn't the best person to answer it. Interviewer: Not true. What I'm after more than anything is that insight from behind the door. Curtis: Well, the problem is that we know our own magazine a lot better than we know other magazines. But insofar as we have a view, I would say that we think of ourselves as being a magazine that provides information, as distinct from opinion. We tend to pull back on opinion and try to edit it out pretty ruthlessly and concentrate instead on presenting a great deal of information. We are willing to risk boring or even intimidating our readers with material that we think is rewarding and informative and useful and unlike most other general interest magazines, we are prepared to devote fourteen pages to say, how to make a Steinway piano. A good example of what I'm talking about is a chapter of a book by Otto Friedrich who works for Time magazine. Otto Friedrich was writing a book about historical calamities, about moments of time over the years when the world seemed badly off, the calamity so extreme that one wondered whether humanity would survive it. The chapter he sent us had to do with Auschwitz. It was 100 pages long and it described the experience of Auschwitz from the point of view of the Nazi commander there. I began to read it with some apprehension because I didn't think we wanted to go back in history for something as familiar as the awfulness of the concentration camps. But I found myself utterly absorbed and I read it all the way through. I was tempted to return it but I sent it on to another editor saying I can't imagine we're going to be able to use this; it's too long, it's too familiar, it's old hat stuff, but I read it 36 ยท The Missouri Review through with absolute absorption and I want someone else to see it. So she read it and had almost the same experience. I sent it to Bill Whitworth and said to him, Two of us have read this, each of us thinks it's not the kind of thing we ever do but we read it and couldn't put it down, so maybe you ought to see it. He called me a week later and said, I agree absolutely with all of your reservations and apprehensions about this Friedrich piece but I also couldn't put it down. It seems to me that if the three of us jaded magazine editors all find in this piece of writing qualities that we can't resist, we really don't have any choice but to print it. And so we printed it. All of it. One hundred manuscript pages. Interviewer: That's two-thirds of your magazine, isn't it? Curtis: I think it came finally to somewhere between twenty-five and thirty Atlantic pages. It was a big chunk of our editorial text in that issue. To the extent that our readers comment, almost all of them admired it. That seemed to vindicate a spontaneous judgment on our part about what we were willing to put in front of our readers. Roughly the same thing happened with that piece about the piano. What I commissioned was a piece the author thought might run between ten and fifteen thousand words; it came in at about fifty thousand words. I read it and thought, My God! It was 167 pages long in manuscript. We agonized over it for several weeks and finally decided to cut it down as much as we could, and then print it. What we were saying in part was that it was very solid, good writing, good information, a useable subject...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 36-53
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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