"We Feel Very Conscious of our Responsibility to the Writer." A Chat With Francine Ringold, Editor of Nimrod
Nimrod International Journal, founded in 1956 at The University of Tulsa, has been active in the discovery and publication of new writers for more than 60 years. Nimrod has also encouraged and rewarded new writers for more than 30 years through The Nimrod Literary Awards. Our editors hunt for and publish new writing and works of established writers eager to share pages with emerging writers of quality.
Francine Ringold is Senior Advisory Editor
Interview by Rae Hamaker
What led you to become the editor of Nimrod?
I did not seek it! I was an adjunct instructor at the University of Tulsa, and the magazine had been started 10 years before by a graduate student who went on to get all sorts of honors at different universities. At the time, it was being edited by a senior professor in the English department. His name was Winston Weathers. He asked me if I would like to help. I said, "Oh sure," because I was young, and innocent.
Anyway, he presented me with two tall filing cabinets of unread manuscripts. So, that was my task at first, just to go through them and select what I felt to be the better manuscripts. At that time Nimrod was published twice a year. It was 32 pages. So it was a modest journal, but still had ambitions beyond the campus because it published from the very beginning William Stafford, William Carlos Williams, etc., upcoming writers relatively unknown at the time.
Then it became obvious that Dr. Weathers was not interested in going on with the editorship, and he asked if I would take over, and then really quite ignorant of the process I agreed. And one of the first changes that I made was to make at least one of the issues per year a thematic issue so that it would have more integrity.
And before long the magazine had gone from 32 pages to 64 pages to 96 pages and now, of course it’s 200 pages perfect bound. Our mission has always been discovery of unknown writers or of the work of more established writers but more, should I say, adventurous works which weren’t being accepted in the more commercial market.
What are some of the key challenges in the lit journal business?
We have thousands of manuscripts a year, we just had close to 1600 for the prize and 1300 throughout the year, unsolicited. So, all of those have to be read and what we feel to be fairly. We always have at least two readers for every manuscript. There are about twenty people on the editorial board all unpaid…
We feel very conscious of our responsibility to the writer to treat the work with care as if we had written it ourselves. And when we reject it, when and if, we try to give those writers that are just on the edge of writing publishable material specific comments…
That can be the first challenge: to be fair and responsive to the manuscript. Another challenge, of course, is funding. We have managed through the years on a minimal budget to keep publishing and keep publishing better and more and that was the challenge, which means, one way or another whether it be grant-writing, whatever...
Are there any interesting stories in Nimrod’s past? Any "crazy writer" stories or "nightmare publishing episodes”?
There are so many I don’t know where to start. One time, Isaac Bashevis Singer came to town to visit me at the University of Tulsa. I was pretty young at the time. Somehow, once, again I found myself in charge of him… At the end of the day- he wanted to stay over another day because it was too much for him to travel from back and forth from New York in only one day- he asked me if I could pick him up at 9:00 and take him to the airport. And we had to pick my children up in between picking him up and so at the end of the day when I was putting him on the airplane, and of course we were talking all the time, he said, "Well, if you’d like to write this day up as an interview, feel free to do it."
Well, of course it’s at points like that where you just want to shoot yourself because I had not made any notes, I had not considered the day that way, I had no tape recorder. But I went home and told my children please go away leave me alone and I sat down and wrote up what I remembered.
Then I had the fortune of having him be so interested in our journal. I happened to be in New York and went over to visit… And he gave us a story for Nimrod. Now at that time Mr. Singer was publishing novels and story collections. So for him to give us a story was very important, not just to show off, but that helped readership for other writers...
That was in 1971. And then he gave me another story… And even though he was a very famous writer I could critique the story on the basis of the fact that it had been translated … He’d said feel free to make any comments. There weren’t all that many, but, still, it was an even more daunting task. Talking about challenges for an editor, I think along with the care for writing comes being tactful about how you present your criticism so that after all it is still the writer’s work.
As far as we’re concerned, we’ve never edited anything, never made any changes without approaching the author so that if the author doesn’t want to make the changes then that is up to him or her. Of course, we don’t have to publish it.
Is it more difficult if the author is well-known?
Oh, of course. It’s very difficult. Although, strangely, my experience has been that well-known writers are much more receptive to suggestions, and I don’t know why that is but it’s just my experience. Maybe they have gotten past the point of having anyone who’s really willing to spend time with them.
They really care passionately about their writing… and so they’re smart enough, in other words, to be grateful. If someone takes that amount of time with your work you don’t have to agree, but at least be thankful. That’s been my experience, but there have been times when people have said ‘no absolutely not I like it the way it is’ so we have to ask whether we think they’re right. I’m open.
What makes Nimrod different than any other magazine out there?
We’ve had a fairly consistent editorial board for at least 30 years and we keep adding new and younger people as the rest of us die. But, on the other hand, we all share that concern and respect for the writer and the reader because when you’re editing you’re editing for the sake of both. Although I would say that actually our readership is not your general readership.
Who is the typical reader of Nimrod?
The typical reader is usually college-educated but not necessarily so. It’s a good reader… There are people in the world who have just been educated by reading. They’ve become a discriminating reader… The work we publish usually has so many levels. There is a level for everyone, and the better the reader the more levels they get.
How would you describe the work included in Nimrod? What kind of work are you most interested in now?
We’re interested in saying things in a new and fresh way. So sometimes that can take the most traditional form. And sometimes it can be a story where several languages are interfaced in one story. And what we’re looking for is just that.
There’s really nothing specific about it. It’s quality. It’s something that’s new and fresh. It doesn’t have to be, like with poetry, it doesn’t have to be either traditional or experimental or rhyme or not rhyme. We accept both.
Has the next theme been chosen yet?
The new issue that just came out is Mexico/USA, so it’s works from both countries. Sometimes Chicano literature involves English and Spanish in the same piece. It fluctuates back and forth. There’s a little writing in a language called Nahuatl and another in Mixtec which are indigenous languages of Mexico. So the issue I think contains both the romantic and realistic vision of Mexico by Mexicans and by Americans.
This issue in a sense began way back in 1974 when we published our first Latin American issue. And in that issue we published writers like Borges and Neruda as well as unknown writers. Now we’re doing the same thing but for Mexicans in the 2000s.
Do you have different people (on the editorial board) read the work based on the genre?
We don’t assign specifically, because there’s more than one reader for each piece. Different people certainly vary in their inclination and get excited about different kinds of stories, and you take that into your own judgment. So if you see two nines on a packet you think ‘who gave them?’ then you might want a third reader. We often do that. There are some times when something is borderline and we have as many as five readers.
That’s a lot of work!
I really feel that all the people who stay with the magazine as editors should all be here. One of their rewards, for example, and they take it very seriously, is meeting the prize winners. We bring the winners and runners up to Tulsa for a conference and an awards ceremony each year so we actually get to meet them personally.
You’d be surprised how much that means to us and then we also go to the Associated Writing Program’s annual meeting every year and get a table. People come up who have published with us and they say ‘I’m so and so I published with you.’ So it becomes a big family and that’s the way we look at it.