Living in New York City comes with its share of commuting hassles, but next time we’re about to rail against another train delay, we’ll remember Roger D. Hodge, whose editorial post at Oxford American takes him from his home here in New York to the quarterly’s offices in Arkansas. Pretty impressive commute, eh?
Billed (accurately) as “The Southern Magazine of Good Writing,” Oxford American features a roster of established writers and young guns alike. Best of all: you need not hail from below the Mason-Dixon line to be published in its pages, or to appreciate the magazine’s fine features.
What’s a great book to read during the length of your commute from New York to Arkansas?
Lately I’ve been traveling with Mark Twain’s Roughing It. Twain’s descriptions of his long overland trip from Missouri to the Nevada Territory—in a stagecoach drawn by sullen mules, steered by facetious drivers, while he and his fellow passengers attempt to sleep on 2,700 lumpy pounds of mail—provide sweet consolation to trans-continental commuters making connections in Atlanta.
Print media has been in turmoil for the past decade, and “newspaper reporter” has apparently been named the worst job of the year. As the editor of a print journal, what are your thoughts about the landscape?
Well, the Oxford American isn’t exactly in the news business, unless you mean the news that stays news, as Ezra Pound defined literature. Nor does the OA depend on newsstand impulse purchases by harried souls looking for a few moments of ephemeral distraction, cheap outrage, or easy titillation. Our readers seek us out and most of them end up subscribing. The OA’s recipe for success is simple: make a great magazine and the rest will follow.
The magazine is known for its annual music issue, and certainly the region has produced a lot of talent. Anyone under the radar we should be on the lookout for?
The music of the South is rich beyond reckoning, and I’m always finding amazing new musicians or revelatory older recordings. When we were putting together our Louisiana issue I was thrilled to discover Meschiya Lake and the Little Bighorns. Our current issue features a wonderful piece by Amanda Petrusich on Hiss Golden Messenger, a singer-songwriter based in North Carolina, as well as an interview with JJ Grey of Jacksonville’s Mofro. Lately I’ve been listening to Charlie Rich’s early R&B recordings.
What gets your immediate go-ahead when a writer approaches you with an idea?
There’s no simple answer to that question. Sometimes the material, the raw story, is what captures my attention; more frequently I respond to the quality of a writer’s prose. A good story butchered by a mediocre writer is a tragedy that I hope always to avoid. I’m continually looking for a higher form of entertainment, for stories and poems and artwork and music that make me want to stand up and applaud.
Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, even John Jeremiah Sullivan—those are some recognizably Southern writers to those of us who’ve never set foot below Maryland. Name some other hidden gems at the top of your must-read list.
Here are some good ones.
Thank you so much, Roger. Check out OxfordAmerican.org for subscription information and plenty of pieces to explore.