A year and a half after the death of longtime editor George Plimpton, the Paris Review is finding him even harder to replace than first imagined.
The celebrated literary magazine, which has published fiction by Philip Roth, Jack Kerouac and V.S. Naipaul during its 52-year history, has decided to replace Plimpton’s successor, Brigid Hughes.
“Her contract expires March 31 and we will not renew it,” said Thomas Guinzburg, president of the magazine’s board of directors. Guinzburg declined Wednesday to offer specific reasons for not retaining Hughes, but expressed general concern about the Paris Review’s future, saying it needed more subscribers and a more businesslike approach.
Hughes was not immediately available for comment Wednesday.
Guinzburg said the board was “enormously grateful” for her hard work and “the successful issues she had produced in the past year.” He added that a search for a new editor was underway and that a decision would “hopefully” be made before Hughes leaves.
Just 30 when she started the job, Hughes admittedly had outsized shoes to fill. The gregarious Plimpton, who died in September 2003 at age 76, was a legendary figure in the book world, known and loved by countless writers, and was a tireless promoter of the magazine. Hughes has acknowledged she was no match for some of Plimpton’s more outrageous antics, such as throwing baseballs to Willie Mays or being shot out of a circus cannon.
But some authors expressed surprise at Hughes’ impending departure. E. Annie Proulx, a Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction writer who has a story in the current issue, said she had had only pleasant encounters with Hughes and had no idea her job might be in jeopardy.
“Brigid had let me know two weeks ago I had won an award and I was going to come to New York to get it,” says Proulx, who is to receive the magazine’s Aga Khan prize for fiction. “Now, I’m not so sure I’m coming.”
Plimpton’s pizazz was much needed at the magazine, which has survived largely by reputation through the years. The Paris Review has never had more than a few thousand subscribers and has often relied on contributions to keep it going. Plimpton once cheerfully confided that the magazine’s bank balance had dropped to $1.16.
But although Guinzburg said the magazine’s finances were “solid,” he added that the informal managerial style under which the Paris Review long operated no longer works. For a start, the Review is seeking to move out of Plimpton’s home, a townhouse on the Upper East Side.
“We’re desperately trying to get out of that pit,” Guinzburg said. “It’s so overcrowded, because you have the staff and a bunch of interns and there’s no room. When we move I’m sure we’ll find wonderful things under all that rubble.”
Guinzburg said it was time to “act a bit more like grown-ups” and indicated the foundation was considering some business practices that “would horrify George,” although he declined to offer details.
“George always believed everything would turn out all right, and that worked for a long time. But while the magazine’s reputation grew, the number of subscribers didn’t,” Guinzburg said.
“We’ve always counted on word of mouth, the whole Plimptonian style, but we’d like to get things under solid management.”