Changes at The Paris Review’s Poetry Desk, Lorin Stein at Play

“I think there’s a good argument for having fun when you work,” said Paris Review editor Lorin Stein on the phone from his White Street offices yesterday. “Life is short! And none of us is making a banker’s salary, right?”

Since leaving Farrar, Straus & Giroux to take over the quarterly from Philip Gourevitch earlier this year, Mr. Stein has been tinkering with the quarterly’s design and putting together what he hopes is a “holy shit” poetry section for his first issue on September 15. “It’s really hard to describe our design without comparing it to Philip’s magazine,” he said. The same is true of Mr. Stein’s poetry desk.

In June, Mr. Stein oversaw the transition of Meghan O’Rourke and Dan Chiasson, poetry editors under Mr. Gourevitch, away from the section and brought in Robyn Creswell, who is working toward a doctorate in comparative literature at New York University. “My original background is more in poetry than in prose, so I have my own views,” said Mr. Stein, who studied poetry at John Hopkins University.

“It’s kind of interesting to have someone who isn’t himself a poet any more than I am,” Mr. Stein said. “Robyn and I have been arguing about poems since we met.” 

Mr. Chiasson and Ms. O’Rourke will appear on the masthead as advisory editors. They called their new role “informal and broad-ranging” in a post announcing the masthead changes on the Review‘s blog. “It’s more a matter of organization,” Mr. Stein added. “I want somebody around who — I mean, Robyn’s going to have a desk in the office.”

Mr. Stein said that he did not expect to have to replace Mr. Chiasson and Ms. O’Rourke when he was interviewing with the board for his job. He said that he didn’t realize the extent to which they had other things on their plate. Both are critics, and she is a poet. “Meghan and Dan both are super. There are many good claims on their time,” he said. “They warned me about this before it was clear to me — in a very friendly way.”

Mr. Stein has been taking a hands-on approach to selecting which works will appear in his first issue. “Philip had two poetry editors so that they could be checks and balances against each other,” Mr. Stein said. “The geometry starts getting pretty wobbly when there’s three of you and you’re talking on the phone.” Mr. Stein said that he inherited a year’s backlog of submissions, which Ms. O’Rourke and Mr. Chiasson already had opinions on.

“I want our poetry section to be made up of show-stoppers. I don’t want the poems merely to have integrity, or merely to be sophisticated — though I want those things,” he said. Mr. Stein made an example of an Elizabeth Bishop poem (“Keaton”) that he tore out of The New Yorker and pinned above his desk. “Every time I looked at it, my eyes would fill up with tears,” he said.

For now, he is done moving people around. “Well, I did have a little fender-bender with my bicycle yesterday,” he said, “but no changes to the masthead today.” Those damn sixth avenue cabs! “The taxi sort of took out my front wheel. Unless something happens to one of us — which heaven forbid — I think we’ve got our team.”

Mr. Stein brought on Charlotte Strick, who designed books with him at FSG, to work on his redesign. They will stick with the same height and overall look that Mr. Gourevitch employed as editor. It will still be “tall, slim,” he said. “In general when you see these literary magazines today, they seem sort of apologetic. They’ve all kind of become wider.” Mr. Stein prefers a shorter line, a skinnier page. Mr. Stein also prefers paper.

“I don’t know if we need an app,” he said. “It’s a good question, I mean, a whole app? What do you think?”

“I don’t want to ever, ever not be mainly a paper,” Mr. Stein continued. “That’s what the board and the old hands tend to call The Paris Review — ‘the paper.'”

Mr. Stein said he had been looking for ideas about the new design in old issues of the Review from the ’50s, the days of George Plimpton. “It’s very improvised. I love the way it’s improvised,” said Mr. Stein. He noticed that the press would sometimes run out of type and change fonts in the middle of an issue. He wasn’t planning to do anything like that. But, he added, “I know we’ll play.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post stated that Mr. Stein’s redesign will not affect the size of the quarterly. His first issue will be the same height as Mr. Gourevitch’s last issue, but narrower.

Changes at The Paris Review’s Poetry Desk, Lorin Stein at Play