POSTED ON APRIL 7, 2010:
Writing's (Rin)gold Standard
Fran Ringold continues her quest to engage talented local writers
Published Word, Physical Matter. “No matter how many online journals there are, people want to see their work in a book that you can hold in your hands, that you can give to someone as a gift and pass on, read in the quiet of your own room,” said Ringold. “That’s just the reality. That’s why some of us cling to the page.”
Although she hardly counts her recent knee replacement surgery as a blessing, it didn't take Fran Ringold long to come up with a list of good things that have resulted from her convalescence -- namely, spending time with each of her children individually and devoting plenty of attention to her long-neglected memoir.
But one other consideration trumps all those.
"More time for thinking," she said. "And at my age, I think it's important that in the flurry of activities which I have been known to engage in, I perhaps didn't leave enough time for sitting and thinking. So I would say that is a positive."
As the longtime editor of the Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry and a renowned author and poet in her own right, Ringold rarely finds herself with down time. Her recent surgery and recovery at home have given her a measure of that, but anyone who thinks she's ready to give up on what has become her life's work -- discovering promising new writers and exposing them to a larger audience -- is mistaken.
She takes enormous pride when someone associated with Nimrod -- the twice-yearly literary journal that was born in 1956 at the University of Tulsa, publishing the best new poetry, short fiction and creative nonfiction -- goes on to achieve a broader literary success. She names a long list of such authors, including Tulsa native S.E. Hinton, whose "Rumble Fish" was first published as a story in Nimrod before becoming a novel, then a major motion picture directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
Others include Sue Monk Kidd, whose best-selling novel "The Secret Life of Bees" came out 10 years after Nimrod published the first chapter as a short story, and Colum McCann, a young Irishman who served as the fiction judge for Nimrod's 2003 awards issue before earning the National Book Award in 2009 for his "Let the Great World Spin."
Those successes have helped elevate Nimrod's profile in the literary world, but the journal's existence has been something Ringold has had to fight for since she came aboard as co-editor in the spring of 1966, later rising to the position of editor-in-chief. Nearly 45 years later, she said she couldn't have imaged then the publication would still be around -- and that she'd still be leading it.
"No, I could not, I really could not," she said, smiling. "I thought in those terms, I think it's only older when you begin to consider the value of the number of years. Naturally, it isn't just the work, but the financial burden and what one had to go through in order to see that financially we survived is something that right now is something I wouldn't be willing to undertake.
"That's the most unpleasant part, but that's the reality," she said. "So many journals have gone under, particularly in the last five years because of technology, having to compete with online publications."
Ringold said Nimrod has adapted to the digital age by launching an extensive Web site that features excerpts from the journal. But the full content is available only in the physical copy itself.
"No matter how many online journals there are, people want to see their work in a book that you can hold in your hands, that you can give to someone as a gift and pass on, read in the quiet of your own room," she said. "That's just the reality. That's why some of us cling to the page."
Nimrod has a strong association with the university -- where Ringold has taught literature, creative writing and theater for four decades -- but financial problems led to the school and the journal parting ways with each for a 17-year period midway through Nimrod's existence. During that era, the journal operated under the umbrella of the Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa, Ringold said.
She credits that move with teaching the journal's staff how to operate Nimrod in a more businesslike manner. That was also the period in which the journal's literary awards program was born, a development that Ringold counts as one of the more significant moments in Nimrod's history.
Winners receive a cash prize -- a sum that was partially underwritten in the early years by local philanthropist Ruth Hardman, who was a writing student of Ringold's at the time -- and are feted in Tulsa at an annual dinner. While there were other literary journals operating in the region then, Ringold said, none of them published an annual awards issue featuring cash prizes -- and that helped separate Nimrod from the crowd.
But the journal distinguishes itself in other ways, as well. Each submission is read by three editors, and Ringold said it is a point of pride to her that many of the writers who send manuscripts to Nimrod receive personal notes from editors when their work is not accepted for publication. If a piece is rejected, but the writer has displayed promise, Nimrod's editors include handwritten comments making suggestions for how the work could have been improved and encouraging the recipient to try again.
"We go every year to a conference called Associated Writing Programs, and we have a table," she said. "And people come over and thank us for the rejection notices. This is absolutely true, because those people do know how significant those are -- and then subsequently were published ... Sometimes it's a little bit annoying because people take our suggestions and then give it to somebody else."
Ringold's own standing as a poet and writer is considerable. She is a two-term poet laureate of Oklahoma and won the Oklahoma Book Award in 1996 for The Trouble With Voices and in 2005 for Still Dancing.
Yet, even for all her accomplishments, Ringold has experienced her share of artistic dry spells.
"Oh, sure," she said. "I think you learn to expect those periods and to hope that they will pass, and kind of rest in between. Interestingly -- I just came to this realization, actually -- when there was a real down period, often caused by a down period in my personal or physical life, either writing in personae or taking on a personae in the theater was enlivening, so that you use that character not as a mask but to speak through. And she allows you to say things you might not say or to express a part of yourself that was feeling dead."
As for her future with Nimrod, Ringold is aware she'll need to step down at some point. She just hasn't decided when that will be.
"I actually had said two years, but I can't remember when those two years are up," she said, laughing. "This is honest. But, obviously, this is the inevitable, and I feel confident that between my managing editor Eilis O'Neal and associate editor Diane Burton and all the editorial board that it will continue. And that's really much more important than whether I'm there or not."
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