Nemens’ appointment was not surprising, but unexpected. With The Paris Review’s roots so firmly planted in the literary scene of New York, Nemens – who is based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana – was not amongst the names whispered over cocktails and conversation at the review’s spring soirée only several days prior to the announcement.
In a statement, the writer, editor, and illustrator said she was ‘honored to be given this opportunity’ and was excited about the prospect of working with such a talented team. ‘I think I have an ability to understand and appreciate a publication’s history and prioritize incremental, thoughtful growth. This means striking a balance between stewardship and innovation,’ she added in a statement on the review’s website.
Nemens will be the seventh editor in the sixty-five-year history of the journal, taking over from former editor Lorin Stein, who stepped down several months ago amid allegations of sexual harassment.
A five-strong committee led the recruitment process, comprising current board members Akash Shah, Susannah Hunnewell, Jeanne McCulloch, and the writers Jeffrey Eugenides and Mona Simpson. As well as discussing candidates, the committee ‘revised its bylaws, instituted a whistle-blower hotline maintained by the company EthicsPoint and created an employee handbook outlining its harassment and ethics policy,’ according to reports from The New York Times.
Speaking on Nemens’ appointment, board member Akash Shad told The New York Times: ‘Her literary tastes, her accomplishments, the combination of her work ethic and her sense of collaboration — both with her writers and her staff — make her a really unique package of talent.’
Born in Seattle, Nemens graduated from Brown University before completing her M.F.A. at Louisiana University. Since then she has worked in editorial positions at the Center for Architecture and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, whilst her writing has appeared in New York-based literature and arts journal n+1, Esquire, and The Gettysburg Review.
As an illustrator, she has also amassed a considerable following on Tumblr for her illustrations of female members of Congress. In her interview with The New York Times, she said she hoped to bring ‘a spirit of collaboration’ to the staff at the review, whilst employing the ‘meritocratic approach’ that she has cultivated so far as an editor.
As co-editor of The Southern Review, she steered the journal towards significant commercial success. In March, The Southern Review announced three of its stories had been selected to appear in Roxane Gay and Heidi Pitlor’s anthology of Best American Short Stories 2018, whilst twenty-one submissions from the journal were nominated for Pushcart Prizes. No doubt she will hope to bring yet more recognition to The Paris Review, itself no stranger to honourable mentions, winning a George Polk Award and being nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in its lifetime.
The Paris Review is widely considered one of the most influential literary publications in America, described by The Guardian as ‘an indispensable part of the literary culture.’ Founded in 1953 by William Pène du Bois, Thomas H. Guinzburg, Harold L. Humes, Peter Matthiessen, John P. C. Train, and George Plimpton, it was Plimpton who built its prestigious reputation over fifty years, editing it until his death in 2003.
A quarterly publication delivering the best in fiction, non-fiction and poetry, The Paris Review has published works by David Foster Wallace, Jack Kerouac and Philip Roth, and interviews with writers such as Ernest Hemingway and T.S. Eliot.