Times Editor Shares Secrets

A longtime editor at The New York Times Book Review said yesterday that his publication isn’t “doing the outreach they should” in order to recruit more women and minorities to the staff.

But preview editor Barry Gewen, who gave a talk at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, said he didn’t want to pursue potential staffers strictly for diversity’s sake.

“Looking for reviewers of a certain ethnicity simply because of an ethnicity makes me a little squeamish,” Gewen, a 17-year veteran of the Book Review, said.

Gewen was introduced by the dean of Radcliffe, Drew G. Faust, who became Harvard’s first female president-elect last week. Faust has published 14 pieces in the Book Review since 1990, and described Gewen as only “a voice” to her for 10 years before she finally met him in person.

“He always showed me why they didn’t need to be twice as long,” she said, referring to her reviews. “I was impressed by his astute attention to the books and my prose.”

Gewen, who earned both a doctorate in history and a master’s degree from Harvard, also discussed the internal structure of the publication and its public perception.

“There’s a lot of mystery about the Book Review and consequently a lot of paranoia,” Gewen said. “This is in large part by design—maybe not the paranoia, but the mystery.”

Gewen, speaking to a crowd in the Radcliffe Gymnasium, said his position as preview editor offers a bit of respite from the frequent backlash to the publication’s reviews.

“I can always hide,” he said. “I can always go to a party and have an angry author confront me and say, ‘It was a group decision.’ Sometimes I’ll lie. I’m a coward.”

He also provided insight into the Book Review’s other staff positions, including a detailed description of the four copy editors for each issue.

Each is responsible for making sure that the Book Review strictly adheres to the New York Times’ rigorous style rules.

“I don’t know how copy editors remember them,” Gewen said. “It’s like there’s some kind of madrasah, and instead of learning the Koran they’re learning the stylebook.”

He also spoke about a legal issue facing the Book Review in the early ’90s, offering some advice to would-be authors looking to get a bit of name-recognition.

“My advice to any of you who want to get your books reviewed is to sue us for 10 million dollars,” Gewen said.

—Staff writer Malcom A. Glenn can be reached at mglenn@fas.harvard.edu.