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Flourish: An Electronic Newsletter for Scholarly Writers September 2009

vol. 5, no.8

My parents just had their fiftieth wedding anniversary. At the party, my parents recalled the story of how they met a bit differently. My father remembers meeting my mother at a church supper and having to appeal to the University of Pennsylvania registrar to get the name of the pretty, dark-haired Canadian studying medieval history. My mother remembers that he then somehow made it past the matron (who was supposed to prevent men from going upstairs in the women’s dormitory) and she, expecting a woman friend, opened the door in her bathrobe and curlers. Neither one of them remembers the conversation they had over the next three hours; in my mother’s case because she alternated between being horrified about her appearance and wondering if this man could be quite sane if he could so calmly conduct a discussion with a disheveled woman in her messy bedroom. Nine months later they were married, although my father caused some consternation by turning up in Winnipeg for the wedding in a red sports car and an elegant green polyester suit.

What I remember about my parents’ marriage was how much books and writing were a part of it. Although my mother did not end up continuing with her degree, she has been a life-long voracious reader and my father had a career as a medical doctor and an author of scholarly articles about epidemiology and public health. Some of my strongest childhood memories are of my father writing. He spent one summer at a card table in the boathouse of my grandmother’s lake cottage. Every time we kids came back from swimming, picking raspberries, or planting flowers, my father would still be in the same spot, writing away. The aural backdrop of my childhood was the rapid-fire sound of my father’s manual typewriter. Unusually for a man of his generation, my father typed his own papers, in part because my mother refused to learn, as did many women in the 1950s for fear that they would be relegated to the role of secretaries.

My mother’s involvement with my father’s writing was intellectual rather than technical. She edited everything he wrote, slashing through entire paragraphs, moving others around, castigating excessive adjectives, questioning conclusions, and regularly telling him to “Get your words up on their feet and marching!”. When I entered high school, my mother did the same for me and there were many a late, tear-filled night while my mother made me do yet another draft of whatever history or literature paper was due. No editor or reader since has been as tough on me as she was. When I left for college three thousand miles away, I wondered how I would ever write a good paper without my mother around to edit it. But my apprenticeship in the house of letters paid off, I had absorbed the principles of writing daily, finding critical readers, rewriting everything, and having a thick skin. For years, I even supported myself as an editor, following in my mother’s footsteps. They were a good team, my parents—they published over sixty journal articles, some seminal, and taught me what it would take to be a writer. So, I’m glad my father importuned the registrar half a century ago and that my mother met a man who cared more about her intellect than her attire. I’ve been the fortunate beneficiary of those values of perseverance and dedication ever since.

Journal Charges

Watch out for journals and journal publishers who charge a fee. For instance, the journal publisher Academic Journals charges authors $550 to publish an article in one of its thirty-five journals. Ostensibly, this is because they are open source, but the website is suspiciously free of editorial names, visible ownership, or proper address.

The Status of the Journal Article

Assistant professors and graduate students more commonly publish in humanities journals than do senior scholars, according to a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Bonnie Wheeler, president of the Council of Editors of Learned Journals, expressed concern that only junior and mid-level scholars now publish in such journals. The corollary of this is that those senior scholars who do publish in a journal’s pages have often been solicited. That is, the editor asked them to submit an article and their articles rarely go through a rigorous peer review process. I know of one graduate student journal that managed to garner a submission from a very senior scholar and then had the courage to gave him suggestions for improvement. He wrote back with gratitude, claiming that it had been years since a journal had given him real feedback.

News from the Editor

It was a travelling summer—Los Angeles, Seattle, Wenatchee, Boston, and Philadelphia—so I feel ready to settle down in Princeton for a term of teaching. I hope your summer was fun and productive!