An Interview with The Paris Review's Philip Gourevitch

Rather than follow George Plimpton’s footsteps, Philip Gourevitch took over the reins of The Paris Review and sought a new audience.
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Philip Gourevitch took over as editor of The Paris Review in 2005, not long after the death of its founder, George Plimpton. Gourevitch’s nonfiction work has appeared in such publications as The New Yorker, and he’s written two books, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families and A Cold Case, which is being adapted into a film starring Tom Hanks. Gourevitch, 45, has brought a new team of young talent to renovate the literary journal. With him at the helm, the magazine has more than doubled its circulation.

How have things changed under your tenure at the magazine?

For the better—I took over a magazine that had an incredible legacy and I’ve tried to give it new life.

Was there any resistance to change when you took over the magazine?
There are people who might very easily have said when George died, ‘Well that was a great run and there’s no reason for us to cultivate a next generation.’ But the magazine was never set in its ways. The board said, ‘Go for it.’ I took a ‘with all due respect’ kind of attitude suggesting changes. I got a couple pieces of mail that said, ‘How can you change things?’ But that’s what a magazine is about. Part of the joy of these things is that they’re like a theater; you can do different things on a stage.

You continue to publish some of the world’s best-known authors. How do new voices fit into the picture?

We’ve upheld one of the main traditions, the quest for new voices who haven’t been published, or not at the national magazine level. We’re trying to find people whose form, style and voice are extremely distinctive and at the same time they have something really interesting to say.

What’s your philosophy on what The Paris Review publishes?

I go out of my way to not be too specific about what we look for so that we don’t get stuck. I don’t want to scare anybody away. My interests aren’t totally off the wall and if I get together a team of editors who are really smart and whose interests are somewhat divergent from mine, what interests them is likely to be of quality.

The magazine has also added photography to its pages. What motivated this addition? When we run photographs it’s as another form of storytelling. We ran one of the longest-ever photo portfolios this summer and won the magazine’s first-ever magazine award for photo journalism.

Do you have any advice to newer writers who hope to submit to you?

Submit it. We read everything. There’s no trick to what we’re looking for except that it has a kind of authenticity and accomplishment to it. [Reading the slush pile] is what we’re [here] for. If we get one piece from those 20,000 in a year [submitted] we feel incredibly excited about it. George used to say if he could charge every person who submitted [a manuscript] a subscription, our readership would be much higher and so would our acceptance rate. 

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