Yale Class of 1975

YAM Notes: January/February 2021

By Thomas J. Bourgeois

I hope your holidays were happy and safe, and that we can all join in gratitude for the passing of 2020 and its many trials and challenges.

Since last addressing you, I’ve seen a remarkable surge—from zero to one—in newsy communiqués from classmates. Theatrical producer extraordinaire Catherine Schreiber reports a new venture to occupy her time and energy amid the continuing Broadway shutdown. Last October 26 saw the premiere of Broadway and Beyond, a program she hosts on ReachTV, available in North American and UK airports. Even in these stiflingly restrictive times, the network estimates that it reaches 13.5 million viewers a month: hence the name. Every Monday at 10 a.m., there’s a new installment airing a conversation between Catherine and a fellow luminary of the theater world. According to ReachTV’s launch announcement, “[T]his new series of exclusive interviews gives an insider’s look at the creation of Broadway shows and focuses on the importance of theater.” If, like me, you’ve called a temporary halt to air travel, you can access episodes online.

Speaking of producers, hats off to the team now dubbed PB&J Productions—Peter BubriskiBrock Holmes, and Joan Spear—for conjuring yet another fascinating and entertaining Zoom-based panel on November 22. Billed as “Publish or Perish,” this conversation, moderated alternately by the aforementioned PB&J, featured four classmates who’ve distinguished themselves in careers centered around the production and marketing of the written word. The quartet talked both about their own professional paths and about the challenges now facing traditional book publishers and print media publications. I’ll present them in alphabetical order:

Literary agent Michael Carlisle earned a JD at Columbia and embarked on a career in international law before entering the publishing business. As he put it, “I left a job where I had a secretary to become a secretary in the literary department at the William Morris Agency.” He spent 18 years there before starting Carlisle and Company, and he’s now an agent at Inkwell Management. His varied client list includes Buzz Bissinger, whose Friday Night Lights has proved an enduring success; historian Simon Schama, whose Rough Crossings won the National Book Critics Circle Award for general nonfiction; novelist Robert Harris, and our own Eric Goodman and Alex Beam. Reflecting the humility required by his profession, Michael said, “One never knows whether a book will work.” He cited Elie Wiesel’s difficulty finding a publisher for Night and noted the book was sold for $200.

David Dunlap retired in 2017 after a 40-year career at the New York Times, where he covered a variety of city beats and eventually wrote the celebrated architecture column “Building Blocks.” Along the way, he extensively documented the redevelopment of the World Trade Center, and he’s now curator at the Museum of the Times. You may remember him as the editor of the 1975 Yale Banner. His 2015 book Building Provincetown has spawned a “living” website that chronicles the history and continuing development of the town, to which he was introduced mere months after our graduation. David shared the details of that introduction, as follows: Storied writing instructor Bill Zinsser, then Master (should I have said Head?) of Branford—not to mention editor, from 1970 to 1979, of the magazine you now hold in your hands, asked David about his post-graduation plans and, in coordination with Pierson Fellow and equally storied writing instructor John Hersey, set up a meeting with James B. “Scotty” Reston, the legendary Times reporter and columnist who then owned the Provincetown Gazette. The paper had an opening. David leveled with Mr. Reston about being a city boy and not imagining himself a good fit with a small-town enterprise. Reston answered, “Well, what would you think about working for me at the Times?” How’s that for kismet?

Erroll McDonald is VP and executive editor in the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group at Penguin Random House. Among his editorial charges are Henry Louis Gates Jr., Salman Rushdie, Wole Soyinka, and Nicolas Sarkozy. He also worked with literary giant Toni Morrison, who, as a writing teacher at Yale, arranged an internship at Random House for Erroll, then a graduate student. His comments on the business were wide-ranging. A sample: “Authors must have a sense of vocation. Sometimes you read about a $500,000 advance, but it may take ten years to write the book.” “Literary books are but a small subset of the publishing world.” “A fear arose ten years ago that the physical book was doomed, but since Gutenberg the book itself remains a superior technology.” As one of the most prominent Black publishing executives, Erroll observed that the industry’s longstanding state of “apartheid” no longer holds, and that American publishing houses are now hiring more diversely in their management ranks. Nevertheless, he said, “It’s easier to imagine a person of color in the White House than at the head of a major publishing company.”

Greg Zorthian has spent most of his career in business journalism management. After stints at Time and Forbes, he cofounded Forbes.com. He went on to become global circulation director and president of the Americas (what a title!) at the Financial Times, and he’s now managing director at Mishkin Associates, working as a media consultant and adviser. Greg credits his experience as managing editor of the Yale Daily News for helping him get a foot in the door of publication management. While we’re on the subject of the Oldest College Daily, here’s a fun Zorthian family fact: Greg’s father Barry ’41, was editor-in-chief of the paper, as was his daughter Julia ’15, who held down the post in her junior year. (Robin Reeves Zorthian ’76 deserves recognition on the latter score.) As regards the business headwinds threatening newspapers and magazines, limiting both staff employment opportunities and compensation, Greg noted, “We used to associate reporters with the publications they worked for. Now they have to be their own brand, using social media and other means to promote themselves.” He also weighed in on the economic sustainability of creative writing careers: “Novelists, short story writers, and poets can’t get by without a day job.”

I also want to thank 45th reunion cochairs Javade Chaudhri and Gunnar Knapp, as well as treasurer Nancy Young, for their parts in arranging and promoting the event.

Late-breaking news as I file this column: art song composer and accompanist Lori Laitman has earned a 2021 Grammy nomination for her compositional and musical contributions to Stephen Powell’s American Composers at Play. Congratulations, Lori!

As always, I invite your updates.