“I don’t want pieces where you feel as though they’re trying to tell you how to think, or that there is a conclusion, so much as that there’s a kind of scrutiny, and that they are using writing as a way of reflecting on the world and seeing the world,” he said. “I feel like a lot of stuff we have now doesn’t do that, and that there’s actually a very open space for that. We are living in very twisted times, and people are, I think, unhappy about the way that they are getting told about it the whole time.”
And then some things stay the same. The Paris Review still offers possibly the most elite slush-pile-reading job in town.
“We want to see everything,” he said. “There is a notion out there, I think, that just getting people to read you is the hardest part. But really, writers want to find magazines and magazines want to find writers. I think it’s worth having four people reading 20,000 pieces a year, just so we can publish one of them. That’s what we’re here for.”
Mr. Gourevitch is continuing Plimpton’s tradition of publishing unknown writers alongside very famous ones; the new issue has short stories by Stephen King and Danielle Evans. (She’s never been published in a national magazine.)
And then there is the Paris Review Foundation, established to Plimpton’s own distaste to try to tap into his skill at cultivating long-term financial relationships with the city’s cultural power elite to stabilize the magazine’s resources.
The major fund-raising for the year takes place at the annual Revel, a springtime gala at which the magazine’s Plimpton prize (a $10,000 award for emerging writers, which this year went to the 28-year-old Benjamin Percy) and its Hadada prize (for established writers; this year’s went to Norman Mailer) are awarded, organized by the magazine’s development director, a new position under Mr. Gourevitch.
Tickets for the Revel, which this year was held at the Puck Building, start at $500; tables are $10,000 to $50,000; and this year’s event grossed $750,000—more than half of the magazine’s operating budget for the year.
Like any good philanthropic board, The Paris Review’s is comprised of the wealthy and/or well-connected.
The current members include New York Review of Books editor Robert Silvers, who was one of the first nonfounders to join the magazine; Lawrence Guffey, who works in London for the Blackstone Group, the private equity firm founded by Steven Schwarzman; the private investor Scott Asen, whose college buddies at Harvard include former Massachusetts Governor William Weld; the artist and writer Bokara Legendre, the daughter of the late socialite Gertrude Legendre, whose family plantation, in South Carolina, has been the site of magazine retreats; and Allure contributing editor Jeanne McCulloch, who has written about her privileged childhood growing up on the Upper East Side for that magazine. The magazine’s publisher, Drue Heinz, was the second wife of the late Jack Heinz, who ran his family’s company from Pittsburgh and was the father of the late Senator John Heinz III.
Board member Thomas Guinzburg, one of the magazine’s original founders and the former president of the Viking Press and Viking Penguin, recently stepped down, and the screenwriter Stephen Gaghan (who is married to ubiquitous socialite Tinsley Mortimer’s sister-in-law Minnie Mortimer) and the author Clara Bingham will join the board as its newest members.
“We try to stay away from the editorial approach because we don’t think we should be meddling,” said board member James Goodale, a Debevoise & Plimpton lawyer who was a former counsel to The New York Times (and this newspaper). Mr. Goodale, who was Plimpton’s longtime lawyer, was also instrumental in establishing the Foundation. “George didn’t like the idea at all. He didn’t like it because in his view of history, there had never been a literary magazine that survived,” Mr. Goodale said.
The establishment of the Foundation presupposes the idea that on its own—or as a for-profit enterprise—a magazine like The Paris Review would not survive. “Literature is an art form that has gotten precious little philanthropic support,” said Mr. Asen, the board member. “There simply haven’t been the vehicles.”
And then, of course, Plimpton did not get to choose his successor.
“I don’t plan on dying in this job. George did it for 50 years, but he gave birth to it. I think that there is a lot that we could do with it, and it’s important to me that it’s read—the more people that read it the better.”