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An Interview with Tom Jenks / Speer Morgan Tom Jenks is Associate Fiction Editor at Esquire. Interviewer: You came to commercial magazine publishing through The Columbia University Writing Program. Did you ever imagine, when you were a student, that in just a few years you'd be a fiction editor at Esquire? Can you tell us about that transition? Jenks: When I was in writing school there was much discussion about the efficacy of writing programs—most of it dissatisfaction. Figured on an hourly basis, we were paying tuition equivalent to the fees of a Park Avenue analyst. There was some financial aid but not nearly enough to go around, no teaching assistantships, few job prospects, and little immediate chance of publication. The news from other programs, though not printed in the AWP newsletter, was just as bad. An illustrious grad of a big midwest workshop told me, "You're lucky you didn't go there. The classes were overcrowded, the teachers play favorites, the town's full of MFAs pumping gas, and it's such a small place that before you're through, everyone's slept with everyone else." That was the news on a good day. On a bad day you suddenly realized that your own writing, which you had long since reconciled as being done only for yourself, seemed absurd, awful, useless, your workshop instructor was no help at all, and your personal life—well, you didn't have one, you had sacrificed it—and now you felt like you'd have been better off working as a sales clerk back home, or going ahead taking an MBA like your younger sister, who was already knocking down thirty thou her first year out of school. It was all too depressing even to make a story out of. Now I look around and am amazed by how much has happened to our class: Many of us have published articles, stories, and poems in big and little magazines; many have found jobs in publishing, academia, or in some other phase of the arts, such as funding, producing, or working with an older artist or arts community. Some have sold their books or signed contracts on books-in-progress, some have won grants and prizes, and a few have done well enough writing to live by it alone. Some pay the bills by farming or playing poker in Atlantic City, or writing TV and movie scripts or technical and ad copy. And some have given up. But mainly, what we feared would never happen but really believed might is coming to pass. We are writing, we are publishing. The Missouri Review -239 Interviewer: You are indeed publishing. Do you still have time to write? Jenks: I write now at odd times. An hour or two in the morning when I think I can be late to work. An hour or two or occasionally all night after the baby's gone to bed and we've talked over our day and then my wife's settled down with a book and slowly fallen asleep. Or sometimes on Saturday or all weekend stolen from what should be family time. Admittedly, they're tired, sometimes lonely and guilty times, but they have a quality of calmness and reality that weekday, schoolday afternoons never had. And the pressure and stimulus of everything else besides writing seem to produce a deeper, more measured, textured, even if less rapid and prolific, result. Interviewer: Let me ask a hypothetical question. If I were the ideal writer, disencumbered from worldly necessities, with my goal being only to produce immortal works, what use would the "writers market" be to me? Should I even take notice of it? Jenks: In practical terms, the writing market is out there as a stimulus to imagination; really I should say markets since there are at least as many markets as personalities on a New York subway at rush hour. The man sitting next to me with his wife slumped on his shoulder is reading the morning Daily News; she's holding a closed copy of Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon—in Signet paper. She's frowning deeply and seems to be in pain...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 139-149
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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