University of Minnesota
Department of English

Department of English

Five X Friday

Past Alumni News Stories
Angela Smith (PhD), professor
Jerr Boschee (BA), social entrepreneur
Reina del Cid (BA), bandleader
Arthur Schuhart (BA), CC professor
Amanda Coplin (MFA), novelist
David Wojahn (BA), poet
Sarah Wadsworth (PhD), professor
Mark Baumgarten (BA), writer/editor
Andrew Nath (BA), banker
Esther Porter (BA), editor
Gerald Jay Goldberg (PhD), writer
Peter Geye (BA), novelist
Sam Kean (BA), nonfiction writer
Joyce Sutphen (BA, MA, PhD), poet
Susan Taylor (MFA), CC professor
Sheila O'Connor (BA), novelist
Susan Niz (BA), novelist
Scott Burns (BA), screenwriter/director
Swati Avasthi (MFA), novelist
Marilyn Nelson (PhD), poet
Garrison Keillor (BA), radio host
Carol Mason (PhD), professor
Amy Shearn (MFA), novelist
Virginia McDavid (BA, MA, PhD), prof
Tim Nolan (BA), poet
Kevin Reilly (PhD), administrator

Michael Tisserand (BA), writer

Will Dad Understand?

Marc BaumgartenWriter and editor Mark Baumgarten demands details and context

Mark Baumgarten (BA 2001) works as editor-at-large for City Arts, a monthly magazine and online publication that covers arts and culture in Seattle, Washington, and the surrounding Puget Sound area. He just published his first book, a nonfiction narrative about influential independent music label K Records, this past summer. We caught up with him via email.

1. What are the tasks of an “editor-at-large”?

I write features and short-form stories with a focus on regional music and theater. I also help plan each issue of the magazine, assist in the development of overall editorial strategies, and write a lot of the headlines.

2. What do you most enjoy about your work?

Working with a team of editors and designers. I am a firm believer in the power of collaboration. While a good story can result from a single person’s effort, it takes two to make something great.

The other part of the job that I enjoy is writing long form narrative features. I am fortunate enough to have an editor who trusts my instincts, which means that I am able to dig deep into stories about artists who have yet to achieve wide renown. I spend a lot of time with my subjects and have been present during transformative moments in their careers. The joy in this is two-fold: not only does it result in a dramatic narrative for readers, but witnessing an artist reaching a creative goal is inspiring to me as a writer.

Love Rock Revolution3. Speaking of which, congratulations on publishing a book this past summer, Love Rock Revolution: K Records and the Rise of Independent Music (Sasquatch Books). Details please!

The book tells the story of the people who started a record label in Olympia, Washington 30 years ago. This label played an important role in the beginnings of the grunge and riot grrrl movements, but has yet to have its history told. I interviewed dozens of people involved and wove their stories together. I also did substantial research on the underground music culture of the 1980s so that I could provide enough context that the story would appeal to more than music geeks. (Every story that I write I approach with one overarching question to which, when I am making a storytelling decisions, I can refer. For this book my question was, “Will my dad understand this?”)

The process of writing a book was life-altering. By the time I was three-quarters through the manuscript, I was intimately involved with the past lives of the people I interviewed. The characters on the page became my social life. I often put off nights out with friends so I could stay home, write, and find out what happens next. I wept a few times after writing pivotal points in the narrative. It was very strange.

4. How do the skills you learned in the study of literature support what you do?

In my line of work, there is nothing more important than the ability to edit a story for clarity. I credit my ability to “cut the fat” from a story to the hours spent in Lind Hall discussing Shakespeare, DeLillo, and Achebe. I was taught that every word in every piece of literature exists for a reason and has a purpose.

But editing is not just a process of cutting out the extraneous word or redundant paragraph. It is also a process of demanding the details necessary for the average reader to understand the story. Whenever I am editing my own work or the work of other writers I ask myself what more does the reader need to know to have a complete understanding of the culture that surrounds the characters and that hosts the events of the story. The first or easiest answer to the question of why someone makes a choice in their life must always be approached with a critical lens. Any ability I have to do so I credit to my time spent in class with professors Jani Scandura and Timothy Brennan, both of whom taught me to question everything, including what I was learning in class.

5. What advice might you have for students interested in magazine writing?

My main advice is this: Be critical of every writing or editing opportunity presented to you, be willing to say no if you are uncomfortable with the work situation (pay, abusive editors), but never say no because you are not familiar with the subject matter. In my first internship I worked for a parenting magazine. On the face of it, the internship was not the ideal gig for a 20-year-old childless bachelor, but it turned out to be the best experience I could have asked for. I learned the ins and outs of magazines while also learning to operate outside my comfort zone.

When I eventually was able to work in an arena I felt comfortable with, I was able to view it with a greater consideration for the general reader.  And I knew that if I could write about baby clothing boutiques, I could write about anything.

Finally, have some fun with your writing and be willing to make mistakes (while always hitting your word counts). So many of the young writers I work with turn in prose that is guarded, that sticks to the script rather than taking daring leaps. Remember that editors are here to help you fix and understand the sins you commit; the ones you omit we can do very little about.

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