As the Oxford American Turns
August 10, 2012 4:05 PM   Subscribe

Could use an editor ... Oh wait. The Oxford American magazine often described as a literary publication but something more along the lines of a New Yorker-style, general interest glossy with a literary bent (albeit a stranger beast), has been in a wee bit of turmoil lately. The founding and longtime editor of the multiple-National Magazine Award-winning publication, Marc Smirnoff, was ousted in mid-July by the magazine's board in connection with charges of sexual harassment and serving alcohol to traditional college-age students, under 21.

The magazine is published by and has offices on the campus of the the University of Central Arkansas in Conway AR, a college town located about half-an-hour from Little Rock. A New York Times story, published yesterday, tells a story of a 19-year-old intern's sexual harassment charges against Smirnoff, who corroborates her story about how he insisted that she drive home alone with him after an overnight party/retreat that went awry (the interns drinking and whatnot, he berating staffers about it, then exploding on her the next morning), and once in the car asked her to hold hands, take him to her favorite make-out spot, hold hands, etc. (Her corroborated reply: She would have preferred to "hold hands with a dead dog.")

The editor insists that this was only fun and games, that sexual banter was common between these two, and everything was all paternalistic and playful, as was his hugging of interns and kissing them on the head, he was like the boss on "The Office" and legendary for his pathetic, off-color, non-PC jokes, others could attest to that. Also he'd taken photos of interns' feet.

Anyway, Smirnoff and longtime girlfriend Carol Ann Fitzgerald, the OA managing editor and art editor who as also fired by the board, have cobbled together an especially long and discursive counteroffensive on a website called, "Editors in Love," under the headline of, "Our Story of Losing the Oxford American." It includes all manner of loosely connected details, including texts from a senior editor who is still at the OA that show how he engaged in sexually-oriented banter with Fitzgerald (before allegedly charging her with sexual harassment, according to Smirnoff. The ousted editor admits to having served alcohol to students at the editing couples' home, meanwhile, but says the publisher who ousted them did the same.

And ... really, it's impossible to describe. Around mid-point, Smirnoff includes, in giant font, "“Fuck you disgusting cocksuckers," a line from what is termed as a not-so-secret top-secret diary from the OA senior editor mentioned above.

More from the Arkansas Times.

Other interesting coverage and analysis comes from the North Mississippi Commentor, a blog from Oxford MS, the original home of the magazine. Among the items noted there is that one of the interns, Mary Marge Lockner, won the 2011 Column Contest of McSweeny's. Her last column, dated August 6, alluded to drama at the Oxford American. That column has apparently been taken down.

As for Smirnoff, he writes at Editors in Love that he is open to other literary ventures, and meanwhile needs a new Apple desktop. A used one would suffice!

(Note: The magazine's high popular, annual Southern Music Issue is still set to be published in December. The issue will focus on Louisiana music. Alex Rawls of New Orleans' popular OffBeat, a local music publication, will serve as guest editor.)
posted by raysmj (37 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Around mid-point, Smirnoff includes, in giant font, "“Fuck you disgusting cocksuckers,"

What a country!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:11 PM on August 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


Holy fuck, that editorsinlove website needs an editor.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:14 PM on August 10, 2012


Smirnoff's a kind of vodka.
Is this all viral marketing?
posted by Mezentian at 4:14 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


[Smirnoff] assigned a benign playfulness to his behavior and said his motivation was crucial to understanding his position.

You don't say. Does the Creepy Predatory Shitheel Guild give its members talking points cards, or what? Let me guess the next one: he's just socially awkward and really really upset to be unfairly labeled.
posted by FelliniBlank at 4:24 PM on August 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


Literature: not even once!
posted by thelonius at 4:26 PM on August 10, 2012


The crazy ... it burns ...
posted by feckless at 4:30 PM on August 10, 2012


This makes me kind of sad, cause I used to really dig this magazine.....It had some good stuff, and I always liked the South and Southerners, taking the good with the fucked up. It always seemed like an underdog, I can't remember, maybe John Grisham bankrolled it for a while? Not a media environment to fuck around with, really, its hard for the well run ones.
posted by C.A.S. at 4:39 PM on August 10, 2012


'I'm not so bad – I'm just like the boss on The Office!' is probably the absolute worst kind of 'self-defence' a person could possibly offer.

Well, probably not the worst. I mean, I'm not done reading this thing yet, so there's hope.
posted by koeselitz at 4:47 PM on August 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yes, C.A.S., Grisham did fund it for a while, in the mid-1990s. The magazine (which began publication in 1992) eventually ran out of operating funds in Oxford, though, and I think it's at least fairly common knowledge (at least regionally) that Smirnoff alienated many people in that town. (He was also charged with rape there, but was either exonerated or the charges were dropped. Not sure on all the details there, can't find much.) It ceased publication in 2001. The magazine began publishing again a year later in Little Rock In 2008, the OA's operations manager was arrested for embezzlement of $30,000, leaving the publication bankrupt. Despite all the turmoil, the magazine had a good rep, and was highly respected by many arts people. It didn't win National Magazine Awards in random fashion.

Also notable: The editor had an amusing and out-of-nowhere takedown of the upmarket (and more Eastern Seaboard South-oriented) lifestyles and culture publication Garden & Gun this past month, which received a goodly amount of attention on blogs and on social media.
posted by raysmj at 5:09 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am an editor, I have worked with editors, have been and have supervised interns, and creepy shit like this is not some special culture that editors are required to engage in. It is creepy shit and I hope the sky falls on him.

But guys like him seem to have no shame, so I won't hold my breath.
posted by rtha at 5:11 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I didn't mean "this past month," re the G&G but recently. Carry on ...
posted by raysmj at 5:16 PM on August 10, 2012


Woah. I made it about halfway down that page before I just couldn't take any more. It's one of those photocopied tin-foil hat newsletters that sometimes you'd find on a coffee shop table back in the days of smudgy mimeographs and Reagan. Big time crazy.
posted by Forktine at 5:17 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Complaining about "only" being paid $50,000 to edit a small literary magazine? Slagging off every other writer and editor in sight? Sexually harassing young interns because he's such a complex, vulnerable person? Conspiracy theories? Referring to himself in the third person?

PEAK ASSHOLE MAY HAVE BEEN ATTAINED.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:19 PM on August 10, 2012 [21 favorites]


I am an editor, I have worked with editors, have been and have supervised interns, and creepy shit like this is not some special culture that editors are required to engage in

Same here, and this is NOT the norm among editors. The only comparable situation I can think of is sometimes editors in chief of major publications can get pretty full of themselves. Anna Wintour (editor in chief of Vogue won't share an elevator with anyone or allow any member of her staff to eat in front of her. I suppose it's situational narcissism and afflicts some people when they have too much control and it goes to their heads.
posted by orange swan at 5:21 PM on August 10, 2012


Big time crazy.

I dunno -- it's got the unreadable, rambling, multi-fonted, randomly paragraphed, bizarre emPHAsis thing down admirably, but it just doesn't have the really world-class Time Cubey vibe and design flair. Yet.

Extra points for the folie a deux aspect, though.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:25 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


What is this thing with some Serious Writers being really creepy with their students/underlings? Is that a thing? I just keep seeing it.
posted by angrycat at 5:55 PM on August 10, 2012


(due respect to the editorial experience described in comments above)
posted by angrycat at 5:59 PM on August 10, 2012


I am, and have been a subscriber of OA for (brief pause while I dig out my first issue...) ten years now. (and I just renewed...*grumble grumble*)

Smirnoff has been... an aggressively outspoken editor for the entire time I've been familiar with the publication (which dates back to 1995 when I was a bookworm living in Northern MS), and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Whether it was his recent takedown of Garden and Gun (which bothered me not one whit) or his furious backpedaling in the face of the JT Leroy scandal (which left a seriously, ethically, undercooked-collardly, bad taste in my mouth). I've stood by the magazine, and paid my dues without fail, and I shall continue to do so. Not because I approve of the lifestyles (of the bourgeoisie and Southern, maybe?) of its editorial crew, but because of some stop-you-dead writing from the like of William Gay, Tom Piazza, Jack Pendarvis, Bronwen Dickey, Jesmyn Ward and other literary Southern wordsmiths I wouldn't find otherwise.

I'm sorry to see his editorial voice leave (one I often describe as "aggressively southern in a positive way" to my friends), but I hope for the best, and I hope the magazine as an entity and as a voice in the New South (whatever that is, to steal a subtitle) will stand. After all, it's where I steal my best FPPs from.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 6:10 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I hope the magazine itself survives. I used to subscribe. The music issues are great. The writing is too often self-conciously literary, but they do publish some interesting stuff.
posted by Area Man at 6:11 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, Marc, bless your heart, I sure do hope you find unemployment as much fun as I have. My secondhand Mac desktop hasn't materialized yet, but it's really only a matter of time!

And now it's time to drag my Creative Writing diploma out of its dusty sock-drawer-nest and spend the night drinking vinegary mimosas and weeping. Cheers!
posted by nicebookrack at 6:21 PM on August 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


What is this thing with some Serious Writers being really creepy with their students/underlings? Is that a thing?

It is absolutely a thing. Sexual harassment is so much the norm in the writing community, at least in the US (and novels/memoirs/BBC dramas suggest things are similar in the UK). It is Fucked. Up.

Part of it is all these guys trying to be Byronic heroes. Of course, Byron himself was a shit to lots of women, and perhaps to some younger men as well, about sex.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:48 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Someday someone will film the Byron/Shelley/Shelley/Polidori writing-retreat-fiasco as the glorious psychosexual black comedy clusterfuck it deserves and I can die happy.
posted by nicebookrack at 6:58 PM on August 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


I worked there a long time ago. This is...not surprising. I never witnessed anything like what is alleged to have occurred at the editorial retreat. But it fits with some of what I did see, and a lot of what I heard secondhand.

Also, the editorsinlove site only gives you a partial idea of what Smirnoff is like. Sure, he's a socially stunted tyrant lacking in self-awareness, but he's also monomanically devoted to the magazine. I mean, he started it by himself, kept it going through after it ceased publication twice. Everything else was (and still is, I would imagine) a distant second. He is the Captain Ahab of small literary magazines.
posted by Rangeboy at 7:55 PM on August 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


The feet thing is news to me, though.
posted by Rangeboy at 7:56 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Smirnoff's a kind of vodka.

Marc used to tell Ole Miss sorority girls he was heir to the vodka fortune. I guess it worked at least part of the time.
posted by Rangeboy at 8:00 PM on August 10, 2012


I'm a sometime subscriber and have enjoyed reading it, though I agree it's too self-conscious a lot of the time. But this sounds like your garden variety jackhole in action, and that's nothing to do with literature - and even were the magazine as good as it wished to be, that wouldn't be enough to turn away from recognizing a sleazebag when you read about one.

Warwick Sabin, publisher of four years, declined to comment on the specific allegations....“In the abstract the magazine would have faced this challenge at some point,” Mr. Sabin said.

Mm hmmm. Is there any way to read this other than "I knew about this consistently inappropriate behavior from my employee and decided to look the other way and do nothing unless and until somebody finally objected?" Probably not, especially since Smirnoff, in trying to drag Sabin down with the ship, implies that underage interns were also drinking at Sabin's parties.

One thing that made OA "fresher" than Southern Living was its joyful embrace of the gothic grit of rundown trailer parks and party pits. Well, from the little I could manage to glean from a skim of that chaotic and paranoid screed depicts, it sounds like Smirnoff gravitated to that material for a reason....he's thoroughly romanticized the slimy aspects of his own psyche.
posted by Miko at 8:13 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Girls. Gi...girlsh. Ladiesh. Heh heh heh. WhaddyameanI'veonlyhadliketwobeers. Now. OK. Now. Wanna see my hi..my huge dic...my dic..."
"Dictionary?"
"No."
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:29 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am an editor, I have worked with editors, have been and have supervised interns, and creepy shit like this is not some special culture that editors are required to engage in.

Seconding this. A friend is a reporter, and said that his senior editor reined in his jokes the very first time a female editor joined their weekly staff meetings because he didn't want her to be uncomfortable.

And lest you think the senior editor in question was straightlaced, oh my no - the guy had at one time been the senior editor of High Times magazine. (He apparently asked my friend to stay after the meeting for a separate closed-door meeting so he could tell my friend all the jokes he'd WANTED to say.)

This is NOT "typical of the writing world," in the sense that it is just something that should be endured. It is something that should be stamped out because most OTHER editors, like most other men in every other walk of life, understand that you shouldn't be a dick like that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:19 AM on August 11, 2012


Yes, peak asshole achievement level has certainly been unlocked.
posted by BibiRose at 6:26 AM on August 11, 2012


This reminds me a little of the whole mess at VQR. I've worked with a few creative people, some I really admired, some I stopped admiring, and I have to admit that it seems quite often genius and asshole go hand-in-hand.
posted by Toekneesan at 8:43 AM on August 11, 2012


MeTa
posted by zarq at 8:46 AM on August 11, 2012


Oh, oh, oh. That Editors in Love screed is just *so* full of win. Especially the obsessional, blinding, outrage at the booby-trapped “Fuck you disgusting cocksuckers.” message in the "Top Seekret" file.

What a couple of pieces of work it turns out Smirnoff and Fitzgerald are.

I also really enjoyed the "nobody cares about unpaid interns in the same very special way that I care about unpaid interns" angle. /creepy
posted by stagewhisper at 1:18 PM on August 11, 2012


Probably not, especially since Smirnoff, in trying to drag Sabin down with the ship, implies that underage interns were also drinking at Sabin's parties.

As you say, Smirnoff's trying to drag Sabin down with him. I believe in innocent until proven otherwise, but if guilty, he's got one hell of an incentive to smear Sabin on the way down. And even if true, looking the other way while a 19-year-old has a beer is hell and gone from looking the other way while a 19-year-old is sexually harrassed by a senior staff member.

I should say for full disclosure that I know some of the parties involved, though not intimately. Even so, I would be goddamned stunned to discover that Sabin would knowingly overlook sexual harrassment. His reputation in this community is spotless. Smirnoff, on the other hand, is a known creep.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:35 PM on August 12, 2012


I would be goddamned stunned to discover that Sabin would knowingly overlook sexual harrassment. His reputation in this community is spotless. Smirnoff, on the other hand, is a known creep.

Well, the two clauses there seem to argue against one another. Is he a known creep? If so, did Sabin know it? If so, why did Sabin, the publisher, tolerate that in a subordinate?

If not, then was this a culture of pervasive inpropriety frequently crossing over into criminality?

I'm not being extreme, but I think you misunderstand me. Based on the quote he gave above, Sabin clearly knew there was something wrong with Smirnoff's behavior. But he didn't do what he needed to do to curtail it. Unfortunately, that does leave him open to charges that he simply tolerated it, or created the climate that allowed his employees to indulge in it. He has already stated he wasn't unaware of it, so his only defense might be not having discovered something actionable.

It's just not something you can really be neutral on. Sabin was in the driver's seat, and for him to say, as he did, that this was inevitable and the only question was when and exactly why it would happen, definitely seems to me to implicate him in at least being aware of , and not disciplining, Smirnoff's behavior - if not facilitating it by promoting a culture in which it was normalized.

In the wake of Penn State, as if we needed a recent example, I think it's only appropriare that those who let loose cannons stay on the payroll have some explaining to do, too. Ending a culture of pervasive harassment along the path to a career - which, let's be honest, is somewhat chronic for young women in many media settings where a long period of dues-paying is considered standard, not just this one - requires that willingness.
posted by Miko at 8:19 PM on August 12, 2012


And to be clear, I understand this could be that - this whole thing could be that Sabin finally found something actionable and got the board to oust a problem staffer. And he may stay in the clear. But it raises the question - what did he know, when did he know it. That's a question he'll have to be answering a bunch of times during the legal proceedings, so it's not one I'm at all concerned about bringing up. It's natural.
posted by Miko at 8:33 PM on August 12, 2012


Well, the two clauses there seem to argue against one another. Is he a known creep? If so, did Sabin know it? If so, why did Sabin, the publisher, tolerate that in a subordinate?

There's a difference between knowing someone is skeevy and having something actionable in front of you. Even in a "right-to-work" state like this, a lot of employers are very leery of firing someone unless they know for a fact that Something Has Happened.

For all of his pompousness and creepiness, Smirnoff's the reason the OA is still alive. He resurrected it and brought it to Arkansas. Sabin's not the sort of guy who'd fire anyone without cause, but he certainly wouldn't fire the guy who re-founded the magazine without cause.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:00 AM on August 13, 2012


Sidhedevil: "Part of it is all these guys trying to be Byronic heroes. Of course, Byron himself was a shit to lots of women, and perhaps to some younger men as well, about sex."

And very few of these guys are Bryon. Not that anything excuses Bryon's huge jackassery, but at least he was Byron, you know. He did brave things and created great art. Not seeing much of either from these latter day shitheels.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:32 AM on August 13, 2012


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