- Editor’s NoteCelebrating and Saying Goodbye
Last year at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference in Seattle, I sat in a large, high-ceilinged room that had no vacant chairs, listening to a panel of writers that included Judith Kitchen, all talking about the human presence in nonfiction. It was clear as the time drew to a close that no one wanted to leave, and that although the presentations had generated a lot of energetic conversation among all five of the writers on the panel, it was Judith to whom most people were drawn afterward. What I most remember is a lot of people between her and the door, and that in spite of the fact that she must have been tired, she was beaming.
I did not know Judith very well—enough for brief exchanges on our love of lyric gestures in the essay, and to invite her to serve as judge for this year’s Fourth Genre Steinberg Essay Contest—but not nearly as well as the writers who have been gathered in this issue by Kate Carroll de Gutes to remember Judith’s legacy and influence on writers of nonfiction in the many venues to which she extended her passion and care. I’m deeply pleased that they’ve agreed to do so, and I’m honored to devote the space to celebrating Judith in her several roles among writers, teachers, and editors of nonfiction.
Now as I write this, it’s late in the evening, early in May. I’m in my office finishing the grading and the year-end reports, planning year-end meetings and finalizing next year’s teaching schedules, all between one graduation ceremony and another as the academic year closes. And I’m facing another occasion marked both by celebration and goodbye. Two staff members of Fourth Genre are leaving, graduating and moving on to other work. Both Katie Livingston and Christine Scales have been working with the writers and the production of the journal for four years, from the first day I took over as [End Page vii] editor. It’s going to be very hard to make everything Fourth Genre as interesting and as gently fun without them.
Katie finishes a doctorate in rhetoric and composition with a specialization in queer rhetorics and creative nonfiction. She’s worked hard, through all the stages of this graduate program, to hold on to her commitment to writing and research that is grounded, accessible, and beautiful. To research practices that are ethical and collaborative and consensual, useful to the community as much as to the academy. To writing that is not lost in a language that is distant from and exclusive of the young people at the queer youth community center that gave her a voice and a family. She is transitioning into a full-time faculty appointment in which she’ll be teaching more kinds of nonfiction and bringing her considerable gifts for generous listening and care to new groups of learners. They don’t know it yet, but they are immensely fortunate to have her.
Christine arrived in my office during the first week of her first year at Michigan State University. Every year, I am assigned an honors student as a professorial assistant, but that year, when she showed up, I was completely unprepared to talk with her about what she’d be working on. As we walked down the long hall from my faculty office to the journal’s editorial office, I wondered how she would manage and how long it would take for her to learn enough about literary editing and nonfiction so that she wouldn’t be overwhelmed. I wondered whether it wasn’t really unkind to put her in the midst of senior English and professional writing majors and graduate students studying rhetoric and nonfiction. I invited her to join in reading manuscripts for the first editorial meeting, but I imagined that she would spend the semester responding to e-mail and maybe doing a bit of proofreading. What I did not imagine was that at that very first editorial meeting, she took her turn speaking intelligently and confidently about...