Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Feature #108: Michael Nye, Managing Editor

Name: Michael Nye

Current Job Position Title: Managing Editor of The Missouri Review

Company Name: University of Missouri

Contact Information: nyem@missouri.edu

Special skills:
Taking terrible off-balance jumpers; being turnover prone; inability to hit the corner three … wait, we’re not talking pick-up hoops, are we? Okay, then! I’ve taught undergraduate and graduate students at various universities for the past decade. I also have editorial, copy editing, administrative, grant writing, and social media skills that would translate to other career areas.

Describe your job story:
After I graduated college, I moved to Boston with little to no idea what I was doing out there other than I wanted to live in Boston. After a few weeks of searching, I ended up working for Putnam Investments as a portfolio analyst for three years. My major was in English; dumb luck that I got the job, but when you need work, you apply to everything, and I guess I was a good interview. In 2003, I was accepted into graduate school at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and earned my MFA in fiction writing in 2006. During that year, I began doing adjunct work at Washington University, teaching fiction writing. I also worked part-time as the managing editor of River Styx, a multicultural literary journal based in St. Louis. After a few years of cobbling together teaching and editing work, my girlfriend and I decided to move to Columbia, Missouri, two hours west of St. Louis, so she could pursue her doctorate in counseling.

I didn’t know anyone in Columbia when I moved here, so I asked my St. Louis friends if they knew anyone in town. So, I met up for coffee with a graduate student I had never spoken to before in my life, and while getting to know each other, I mentioned River Styx. She said, “Did you know the Missouri Review just lost its managing editor?” I didn’t! So I applied immediately, interviewed, and was offered the job, which I began in January 2010. I’ve been with the magazine ever since.

What did you want to be when you were a child/ teenager?
A baseball player. By the way, I didn’t have even the slightest ability to hit a baseball. All I really wanted to do when I was younger was go to college so I could be out of the house. There was no special ambition on my part.

Are doing your dream job?
I’ve never thought of my job or career as a “dream” job; it seems too definitive. I have no idea where the next ten or twenty or fifty years will take me, but I do know that, right now, things are good. Along with managing the magazine, I’m a writer, and in 2012 I published my first book, Strategies Against Extinction. Also, one of my job duties is to teach a class each semester. My job is a bit of a Swiss Army knife, and that will always keep my work meaningful.

What do you like MOST about what you do? What do you like the LEAST?  
What I like most is that I publish and promote writers. Like most writers, I feel squeamish about self-promotion, but I love telling people “Hey, you need to read THIS” and pass along another writer’s work.

I wouldn’t say there is anything I dislike about my job, but if anything, working forty hours a week means that I have to make time for my own writing. I get up early in the morning to do that, which is not that much of a problem.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
I have no idea. When I graduated college, I couldn’t imagine that I would be living in St. Louis, tending bar, writing stories, and teaching classes. Five years ago, I would have never imagined moving to a college town and finding a job at one of the most prestigious literary magazines in the country. I don’t think or worry much about the long-term. If I focus on what’s in front of me—publishing a quality magazine, writing a strong story—then the rest will takes of itself.

Are you happy with where you are in life?
Yes, though, I think the question is misguiding. More important, I think, is to task “is my life meaningful?” The philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote “Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you ceases to be so.” Happiness is ephemeral. Meaning and purpose is not. And I find my work meaningful, for myself, and for others.

What more do you want to do with your life?
Publish a novel. Publish more stories. Read more good books. Continue to publish The Missouri Review and find new writers and readers to experience and enjoy literature. Those aren’t, I suppose, concrete and easy-to-define goals such as “buy a house” or something, but I like having a little latitude with my goals. Having a list of goals makes me feel like it’s more important to check something off a list rather than actually experience it.

What drives/motivates you?
The great American novelist Henry James has the answer to this one: “There are three things that are important in human life. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.”

What else do you do?
Writing and publishing really do take up the bulk of my time. Beyond that, I play a lot basketball and I’m a NBA junkie.

What is your advice to those who are seeking employment and have no hope?
Man, what a hard question. There are so many people that have been looking and struggling to find work, not just meaningful work, but any work of any kind. I feel like “keep your head up” or “have faith” shortchanges the struggle that regular people are going through. Find work does take weeks, months, even years, to get to a place where you really want to be … and even that might just be a stepping stone to what you’re really after.

I guess, and this will sound corny, but I’d start here: you can quit at any time, so why quit now? Be stubborn. Be persistent. And talk, every day, to people that encourage you. It’s really easy to get down on yourself and make excuses, especially when the country is really indifferent to your suffering. Talking daily to people that believe in you, that believe there is work out there for you, is a huge help. Send out a lot of resumes. Ask people if they’ve heard of anything or can help you out: call it networking or schmoozing or favoritism, whatever, but every business is a human business, and those connections matter. There is something out there for all of us: don’t give up!

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