One of the first things Ladette Randolph tells me is that she’s a fifth-generation Nebraskan, that her great-great grandparents settled there, that the landscape there, particularly in the western part of the state, where her novel is set, is “like being in the middle of the ocean — that kind of erasure.” In two weeks, Randolph, 50, will move from Lincoln, where she’s the associate director of the University of Nebraska Press, to Jamaica Plain, to take over as director and editor-in-chief of the time-honored literary magazine Ploughshares, published locally in connection with Emerson College.
Randolph has also been the managing editor of the literary magazine Prairie Schooner, an editor for anthologies of contemporary Nebraskan fiction and nonfiction, and is a published author (her short-story collection, This Is Not the Tropics, won the Nebraska Book Award). She’ll take over from DeWitt Henry, a founding editor of Ploughshares, who’s served as interim director since June of this past year.
As for plans for the magazine, “It’s too early to talk about making changes,” says Randolph. “My concern is keeping the quality consistently high.” She lists her primary concerns as taking the pshares.org Web site up a level, building the magazine’s endowment, raising its visibility, and collaborating more with Emerson College groups.
Though Ploughshares — famously born in 1970 in the Plough & Stars bar in Cambridge — is a literary force on a national scale, boasting more stories selected for the Best American Short Stories series than any other journal, it does possess a regional thrust. (Full disclosure: I help read through the overflow of fiction submissions for Ploughshares.)
Randolph admits that she hadn’t initially thought of Ploughshares as being particularly regional. But “looking through back issues, I am seeing these interesting regional connections.”
“My aspiration,” says Henry, “was to have the sort of influence on readers in New England that the Atlantic did — to stand for Boston and New England.”
It’s to be seen how Randolph’s own regionalism manifests itself at the magazine. “I bring with me different sensibilities,” she says. When asked how she’d define a Nebraskan literary sensibility, Randolph thinks: “Straightforwardness, there’s a dark humor, a little bit of contrariness, a skepticism. We hear a lot of talk about mavericks these days. The ethos here is a maverick ethos. But,” she emphasizes, “I’m looking forward to being in a blue state.”
A launch reading of the most recent issue of Ploughshares, plus an introduction to Randolph, takes place at Newtonville Books, 296 Walnut Street, in Newtonville, at 2 pm on Sunday, September 28.