Farewell Roger Angell


You’ll have seen our short story contest is open once again this year, and thank you so much to all of those who have already submitted, responding to our theme of ‘ink’. 

The short story is a beautiful thing, and just over a week ago, a man who left an indelible mark on the form sadly passed away. His name was Roger Angell, and as well as being a revered sports writer, for a long time he was also the Fiction Editor at the New Yorker. In this role he shone a spotlight on many of the most interesting writers in the world, each taking the form in their own unique direction. In no small part it’s because of him that the New Yorker has continued to shape the evolution of the short story.

One of the writers he gave a chance to and continued to edit afterwards at the magazine was called Donald Barthelme, and this man is possibly my (John’s) favourite writer – ever! Possibly. Barthelme’s short fictions were absurd and funny and clever and wonderful. If you’ve read any of his work, you’ll know he loved to experiment with language, and often his stories didn’t really read like stories. Some people have described them as word collages, some people have called them Impressionistic Fictions (ooh la la!), some people call him a Stylist, similar to Robert Coover or maybe Grace Paley. I’m not sure any of those descriptors really work, or perhaps they all do a little. Needless to say, he was a true master of the short story, uncompromising in his style, and if it weren’t for Roger Angell giving him a chance, and nurturing his writing for years afterwards, it’s highly unlikely Barthelme would have gone on to complete all of the remarkable stories he did. And I’m sure the same could be said for many other writers!

Now, I didn’t get to meet Roger Angell, however thanks to a friend of mine that was lucky enough to spend some time with him, I do have a tenuous connection! When this friend told Roger (can I call him Roger?) about my admiration of him and of Barthelme, Roger told him to share with me a little memory he had.

A deadline was looming for the magazine, and Roger was doing his final edits for the issue, in which Barthelme had a story featured. In this story, Barthelme (as he would) wanted to insert a full page consisting solely of the word Butter.

Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. Butter. 

Something like this. It would have filled three columns in the magazine. Of course, this would probably have been awkward for Roger to swing on any week as Fiction Editor at the New Yorker, as if he allowed Barthelme to get away with that, it would be pretty hard to explain to future contributors why he was asking them to cut far more reasonable portions of their work. However, this week in particular Roger really didn’t have a choice in the matter, as already he had been told he would need to shorten the piece to fit the magazine’s makeup for that week’s issue.

So, Roger called Barthelme up. He said, “Donald, how do you feel about cutting out some of the ‘butter’ stuff? The thing is, if we don’t the story won’t fit.” To which Barthelme paused, and then replied, “Well, okay. But no more than two spoonfuls.” 

A tenuous connection, but it’s mine! Thank you, Roger Angell. 

Don’t forget, the deadline for Blackwater’s short story contest is the 30th June. We’re very much looking forward to reading your entries!

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