Best Laid Plans
Readers often ask where we get the ideas for Oregon Quarterly stories. There’s not a single, simple answer. Some result from a carefully calibrated process. Others are happy accidents. Every once in a while, one arrives, almost as if gift-wrapped. In this issue, we have examples of each of these varieties. And maybe even one that combines aspects of all three.
Mary DeMocker’s feature, “Hub for Change,” has a long history. I heard about the UO’s Sustainable Cities Initiative before I started working here. A colleague at my previous institution spoke of it the way a serious football fan might have rhapsodized about Oregon’s blur offense during the Marcus Mariota years. So when Mary pitched us on the topic more than a year ago, I was already onboard. When we began planning the story in earnest, we were able to develop a rich online version that pairs the OQ story with a video by Dustin Whitaker, one of our staff videographers. (Oh, and when we started thinking about this topic way back when, we didn’t have staff videographers. So I guess that was part of the calibration, too.)
While going through a folder of query letters (most old enough that they were addressed to editors who no longer work on OQ), I came across a pitch from a writer my colleagues and I didn’t know who wanted to write a feature about a program we hadn’t heard of. The writer is Nathan Gilles and his story, “A World Aflame,” is about how climate change affects Native American tribes in the Northwest. This article is an example of two great gifts that this university provides OQ: plenty of nooks and crannies where little-known stories reside, and generations of talented writers trained in our own journalism school.
Our third feature, the one featured on the cover, was like a welcome gift that I received when I stepped into the editor’s role. My predecessor, Ann Wiens, mentioned this story idea to me on my first day of work as her managing editor. She even had a writer in mind. Ryan Jones’ story, “The Great Sneaker Revolution,” explores how innovative, UO-trained designers created a series of shoes that tapped into the Zeitgeist in ways that transcend the confines of the basketball court or field of play. This story started as Ann’s baby, but it’s been a pleasure and honor to nurture it.
And then there’s our essay contest winner, “At School, A Shooting,” by Drew Terhune of Eugene. The Northwest Perspectives Essay Contest is an OQ tradition, started by former editors Guy Maynard and Kathleen Holt, and now in its 16th year. This year there were 358 entries—five times what we typically receive. The teetering stack included an incredible variety of stories of the region, and it was humbling and moving to select winners from such a collection. The entries were judged blind, with our staff choosing a dozen or so finalists, and then guest judge Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia!, selecting the winners.
With this issue, we say goodbye to a couple of key players on the OQ team. Susi Thelen has been OQ’s advertising director for 24 years. She’s moved on to a new role in enrollment management. We will miss her energy, good humor, and dedication—to say nothing of the fact that she was a rare extrovert among us quiet artist and writer types. Our editorial intern, Chloe Huckins, is graduating at the end of the term. Chloe has been instrumental to the magazine, particularly online, for the past couple of years. She also makes every meeting she attends decidedly less boring.
Happy reading and keep in touch,