Friday, April 15, 2005

That New York Electricity

I just spent four days in New York, a whirlwind trip of eating, walking, talking, taking cabs, and peeking inside the high-powered worlds of journalism and publishing. It was fantastic and fun and I must report, with dismay, something obvious that those of us living on the West Coast know but try to repress: the action is there.

The most high-octane moment came Wednesday at the National Magazine Awards. Thousands of journalists, publishers, publicists, and writers crammed into a massive three-tiered ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria on Park Avenue. My brother Steven Dinkelspiel is publisher of San Francisco magazine, which had been nominated for an award in the public interest category. Nina Martin wrote an disturbing piece, Innocence Lost, about how as many as 1,500 innocent people sentenced to life in prison have much less of a chance of exoneration than those on death row. There are many people who fight to free the innocent on death row, but spend less effort helping those with just long prison terms. The editor, Bruce Kelley, and his wife Susan Kelley, were also there. The magazine didn’t win, alas, but lost to Seymour Hersh’s New Yorker articles on Abu Ghraib.

It was a star-studded event and the Bay Area was well represented. While New York may be the center for publishing, this region clearly produces excellent work. Two local magazines won for general excellence in their respective circulation categories – Dwell and Wired. Dwell’s editor-in-chief, Allison Arieff talked about how when she was growing up she had always dreamed about being editor of Time Magazine, prompting Time managing editor James Kelley to quip, when he accepted his award, that he had always dreamed of being editor in chief of Dwell.

Of course, the big buzz came when Martha Stewart, fresh from prison, unexpectedly took the stage to accept an award. She was humble and gracious, and dressed in a black leather coat, her version of convict chic. David Remnick, the New Yorker’s editor, had so many awards to carry at the end of the afternoon (5) that he could only hold 2, and left the remaining Ellies to others to carry. The most ironic moment came when the Atlantic won in the fiction category, just days after it announced it was eliminating fiction from its pages.

Cutler Durkee, the managing editor of People magazine, is a Bay Area native, although he hasn’t lived in the region for decades. He was seated at a People table in the front of the room. (Those of us from San Francisco magazine didn’t really mind that we had to lean around a pillar to see the stage) Other Bay Area people included Roger Cohen, the former editor of Mother Jones, who is now teaching at Berkeley’s journalism school and Katie Tamony, the editor of Sunset Magazine. Other west coasters included Kit Rachlis, the editor of Los Angeles Magazine, which had been nominated for 2 awards. It didn’t win.

I didn’t go to New York for the awards; I went to meet an editor who is interested in buying my book on Isaias Hellman. I had lunch with her, met with my agent, and then asked: Who is this person? I didn’t recognize myself. When you toil and labor on a book project for years, you dream of having an agent and editor. It seems like an unattainable goal, something that happens to other people. When it happens to you, it’s exhilarating and slightly unreal.

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