“I have only one criteria for putting things into the quarterly, which is that the writing is good. It’s not so much about it being academic,” declared Lewis Lapham, editor of Lapham’s Quarterly, at a reading hosted by the literary journal at the National Arts Club on Monday, Nov. 17.
Mr. Lapham, his round tortoise-frame spectacles resting firmly on the bridge of his nose, was talking about his recent efforts to get more young people to attend readings and events hosted by the quarterly. “For the fun of it,” he explained.
“My editors are young, they are all under 30, and I trust them,” said Mr. Lapham. “When people get to be of the older demographic, when they get to be 50, they tend to read history and watch the History Channel. When I conceived the quarterly I thought that would be the audience, but I was surprised to find out how many young people liked it.”
Scattered among the antique leather couches and grandfather armchairs in the room were indeed groups of 20-somethings–the boys with disheveled hair and the girls in vintage dresses. Except, that is, for the quarterly’s 23-year-old assistant editor, Elias Altman, who was delighted when his well-fitting suit was complimented by The Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel. (Mr. Altman informed Ms. vanden Heuvel that his linen pocket square was lent to him by Mr. Lapham.)
Among the readers (who included Francine Prose and Calvin Trillin) that evening was Elizabeth Wurtzel, who published a memoir about depression, Prozac Nation, when she was 26; she’s now 41 and an attorney at Boies, Schiller, & Flexner LLP. Originally Ms. Wurtzel was supposed to read Sylvia Plath. Then Mr. Lapham suggested Teddy Roosevelt, but the text failed to “move” Ms. Wurtzel and she selected a passage from Virginia Woolf‘s A Room of One’s Own, which she studied on the train ride over while listening to Guns N’ Roses.
Ms. Wurtzel graduated Yale Law School last May and began practicing just this year. But earlier that day, Gawker had reported that Ms. Wurtzel had failed to pass the New York State bar exam.
“Wow, really? I had no idea. I didn’t even see that. That’s interesting,” Ms. Wurtzel said of the report, with an awkward half-smile. “It’s a weird test. I think when you go to a different school than Yale you are better prepared for it. It was definitely hard. I guess when I should have been studying, I was kind of having a good time.”
Since taking up her new part-time job working for Mr. Boies, Ms. Wurtzel said she has not given up writing. In fact, she has been able to do more of it.
“The problem was that when I was just sitting in my room writing, I wasn’t actually getting that much done. Now that I work, I’m getting more writing done,” said Ms. Wurtzel. “And law is actually a little bit like literary criticism because when you look at cases, you’re looking for the detail in the case that will help you prove your point.”
The Transom wondered if the ubiquitous photo of Ms. Wurtzel in her 20s that still graces every article written about her-the one where she’s crouching down and staring up into the camera, thick eye-liner around her eyes-is a haunting presence.
“I wish I still looked like that! I’m very conscious of the fact that I am 41 now. Age creeps up on you and suddenly you’re 41. It’s weird,” replied Ms. Wurtzel. “Your looks suddenly change dramatically and you just don’t look the same. I’m actually thinking of writing about it, though I don’t want to write yet another miserable book that lots of people can relate to. But it’s a worthwhile subject.”