“Like all editors and most readers, I’m in a bit of a hurry,” claims Michael Griffith, the associate editor of The Southern Review, “and what slows me down and delights me most often is something that immediately lets me know I can trust this voice, that every word has been chosen thoughtfully and well. I’m willing to follow a story or poem almost anywhere, into any subject, tone, or style, into any thicket or sump, so long as I have the confidence I’m in good hands and will be delivered, finally, to a worthwhile destination.”
Griffith should know all about worthwhile destinations. After graduating from Princeton in 1987, he spent a year working for an advertising agency in New York. “I loved New York, in my way, but I was terribly frustrated there. It’s easy enough, here in remote Baton Rouge, to look at the Arts & Leisure section of the Times with gentle wistfulness: ‘Ah, wouldn’t it be great to take in Shakespeare in the Park this weekend rather than the Shrimp & Petroleum Festival?’ But it was torture to read the A&L in Manhattan and not have the time, energy, or money to attend any of the hundred appealing events going on at any given moment.”
So Griffith, who grew up in Orangeburg, South Carolina, fled back south and back to school at Louisiana State University (LSU). As Griffith explains, “I’d never been to Louisiana before, and its air of swampy indolence appealed to the lazier, more pleasure-seeking angels of my nature. LSU had The Southern Review and a good English department, and I thought it would be an interesting place to spend three years. I never expected to grow attached to the place or to stick here.”
But as Griffith graduated with his MFA in 1992, a half-time assistant editor position opened up at The Southern Review. “I interviewed with my jaw wired shut and my head grossly swollen after a bicycle accident,” remembers Griffith. “I looked awful, but — maybe because they’d never seen such a pitiful display as my attempt to speak eloquently, or for that matter intelligibly, about southern literature — the editors hired me. In 1994, with the number of manuscripts continuing to grow and my ‘half-time’ job requiring 35 hours a week, I was promoted to full-time associate editor.”
Perhaps as a result of the alleged sympathy the editors took on Griffith, he attempts to read every word of every submission, even though the magazine receives nearly 10,000 submissions each year. However, he admits his reading speed often increases after six or eight pages if there’s nothing in the story to slow him down.
“One small but significant factor in keeping an editor’s interest is the writer’s attention to detail: spelling, grammar, avoiding awkward repetitions, et cetera,” says Griffith. “That’s, of course, not to say we would eliminate a work from consideration because of typos. But often the author who doesn’t take care with the small things isn’t any more conscientious about the big ones. Sloppiness sends a distressing message to editors — why should we spend the energy to read closely and meticulously something that wasn’t written that way? Given how steep the competition is — out of the 10,000 submissions we receive annually, we accept roughly 20 stories and 100 poems — it makes sense to do everything you can to impress upon the editor that your work deserves scrutiny and can stand up to it.”
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