Profile: Greasing the Wheels
Tyler Meier '01 commutes from Columbus to Gambier in a gold-colored Mercedes. But don't assume he's riding in style. His "luxury" car is a rusty twenty-six-year-old, and it runs on grease.
Meier's unusual hybrid reflects the commitment and conscience he brings to the Kenyon Review as the literary magazine's managing editor. He spends several hours a week in his garage, filtering French fries and teriyaki from used vegetable oil so he can fill an auxiliary tank with the recycled waste.
The purification process is "pretty gross," said Meier from his office in Finn House, the Review's sparkling new home. "Every time I fill up, I spill some on me. But I drive one hundred gas-free miles a day, without guilt. I don't think mixing oil with foreign affairs is good public policy."
Meier, 29, originally of Delaware, Ohio, well serves the Review with his ability to blend practical considerations with artistic concerns. He's a promising poet whose background includes writing, teaching, and home construction.
During his postgraduate years, the former English major built Habitat for Humanity houses as a volunteer coordinator for AmeriCorps and pursued his interest in creative writing as a graduate student at the University of Washington in Seattle and a teacher at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts.
He continues to keep one hand on the keyboard, writing poetry, and another in the toolbox, rehabbing his Grandview Heights home near Columbus with his wife Katie Patt '02, a sixth-grade teacher at the Columbus School for Girls.
Journalist Tracy Kidder's House, the story of a construction project in Massachusetts, helped Meier marry in his mind his two seemingly disparate passions. "Reading his book was like listening to a writer talk about the writing process," Meier said. "Kidder made it clear to me that writing and home construction are both about joining things together."
Despite living coast-to-coast in cities such as Seattle, Portland, Philadelphia, and Amherst, Meier always returned to his alma mater in the summers to teach high-school students in the Review's Young Writers Workshop. Moonlighting from Amherst as the Review's blog editor, he boosted the magazine's online presence, attracting younger readers and writers.
His ongoing contributions made Meier an ideal candidate to manage the magazine's $1 million annual budget and supervise all aspects of its print and online production. When editor-in-chief David H. Lynn invited Meier to apply, "I sent my resume in light-speed," Meier said.
Fearing bias, Lynn, a professor of English, was somewhat reluctant to recommend his former student. But members of the search committee "convinced me that we had to have him," Lynn said. "He was so charismatic, genuine, and enthusiastic, he just blew everyone away."
Meier, who bides his drive time to and from work memorizing poems, often helps Lynn review submissions. After a year on the job, he still marvels at his good fortune. "I can't imagine being luckier," he said. "This is not a career path I could have predicted or expected. Creative writing is not something you study as a pre-professional degree. I thought I'd end up teaching. To be around the creativity here is a blessing."
His challenge is to keep the Kenyon Review current with changing times while preserving its seventy-year tradition. "Our greatest asset is our history," he said. "It is too valuable to do anything with but cherish. At the same time, we still need to be innovative. The print object will never become obsolete, but most of our new readers are going to find us online."
Meier believes a "golden age" is dawning for literary magazines, given the reluctance of commercial publishers to risk profits on new writers and serious literature. "We're on such solid footing right now, I feel good about our future," he said.
Too bad the same can't be said for his 1982 "greasemobile," which Meier vows to drive "until it dies." Even if the car sometimes smells of stale fries, "it's just another indication of how committed Tyler is to making the world better," Lynn said.