June 15, 2020
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Professor of English David Lynn ’76 P’14 is fond of saying that we live in a golden age of letters, with more diverse voices and more superb literature, finding audiences through more outlets, than ever before. As Lynn prepares to retire as the longest-serving editor of the Kenyon Review, admirers point out that much the same could be said of the Review itself.
Over 26 years, Lynn has transformed a print journal with an august history but shaky finances into a thriving, multifaceted literary-arts organization. The Review publishes two distinct journals — the print magazine and the digital KROnline — while hosting popular workshops for both adults and high school students, a reading series, contests, a major lifetime-achievement award, an annual literary festival, an apprenticeship program for student associates and a fellowship program that boosts the careers of emerging talents. From its home base on the Kenyon campus in rural Gambier, the Review has also expanded its worldwide audience through podcasts, blogs, social media and web features.
Lynn will remain at Kenyon to teach some classes and to develop programs that promote literary writing in fields such as the sciences. A search committee has been fielding applications and hopes to choose his successor by next spring.
“Kenyon and the American community of letters owe David a debt of gratitude not simply for saving the Kenyon Review when it was on the verge of closing, but also for his visionary leadership in making the Review a model for literary publishing in the 21st century,” wrote Professor of English Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky, the journal’s associate editor. “Most importantly, David has always emphasized the idea of creating and sustaining a thriving literary community.”
Reflecting on his leadership style, Kenyon Review Managing Editor Abigail Serfass echoed others in praising Lynn for his gift in empowering staff members and for his humane spirit. “When you work for David, you fall under the umbrella of his care and concern. You feel always supported. If you are within his orbit he will stand up and fight for you.”
Writers and editors, Review colleagues and board members, and former students have written tributes to Lynn, describing him as a meticulous, open-minded and encouraging editor; a caring mentor; a boss who treats his staff like family; a big-picture thinker, unafraid of mounting ambitious initiatives and giving colleagues the freedom to shape them; and a fiercely loyal friend. A compilation of the tributes can be found here.
Two factors led to his decision to step down, said Lynn, who throughout his career has remained active as a fiction writer even as he taught creative writing courses, read journal submissions, cultivated writers, maintained a network of “editors at large,” worked with a board of trustees and an advisory board, and supervised a staff in Gambier. After a “glorious” sabbatical in Oxford, England, in the spring of 2018, “I realized I just didn’t want to be in charge any longer, to be making decisions constantly,” he said.
He added: “The literary world, as well as the larger world around us, has been going through a period of enormous strain and change and generational transition. It now seems to me that it’s time for fresh eyes and fresh energy and fresh sensibility to be guiding the Kenyon Review in the years ahead.”
Lynn will personally curate the contents of the November/December 2020 issue of the print journal, showcasing some of the many writers he has brought to the Review over the years. Meanwhile, the mark he left will be recognized permanently in the title of the post he filled for so long. When the Review’s editorship was endowed in 2006, it was named for David F. Banks, a leader in saving the journal in the early 1990s, but only as a kind of placeholder pending Lynn’s retirement. Future editors will hold the title of David H. Lynn Editor.
If Lynn has juggled multiple roles and added an array of programs to the Review, observers point out that a single commitment underlies everything: the desire to foster literary excellence. When President Sean Decatur attended his first meeting of the Review’s board of trustees, he was surprised to discover that Lynn opened the session with a mini-seminar focusing on a poem or story from a recent issue of the journal. “It’s telling, and fitting,” said Decatur, “that when the stewards of this organization gather, they begin with a literary discussion rather than going right to the spreadsheets.”
In Decatur’s view, Lynn’s greatest accomplishment may well have been “securing the place of the Review and its relationship with the College. No one in the Kenyon community now can really imagine a Kenyon College without the Kenyon Review.”Read the Original Post