With his usual aplomb, plainness, and perception, Rubin (The Mockingbird in the Gum Tree, 1991, etc.) tells how and why it was that he never ended up devoting his life to journalism.
With two uncles who were successful newspapermen, Rubin, even in his Charleston, South Carolina, boyhood, wanted to follow their example and the promise it held. A century ago, says Rubin, there were 1,967 dailies in the US, and for someone who wanted “a way to work with words,” professional journalism offered “an ocean of possibilities.” This, Rubin explains, was in a time when newspaper work could be a way to move into a life of writing, even into a life of letters, without needing college first, a time (from 1875 to 1950, Rubin says) when there was no “hard and fast distinction between journalism and literature” (pace Hemingway, Dreiser, Mencken, etc.). And so we follow the young writer in 1946, when he’s just out of the army and goes as a reporter up North (to New Jersey), moves next to become city editor on a daily in Staunton, Virginia, then from there goes to Richmond as a rewrite man with the AP. He learns fast, he learns a lot—and he starts getting bored (especially with the rewrite job). What he really wants is to write fiction—and here’s the beginning of the end, when, in the early 1950s, he goes to Johns Hopkins to learn how to write fiction but stays on until he has a Ph.D., a new love of literature (with its “capacity for emotional complexity”), a deep interest in Southern writing, and a sense of the pleasure of teaching. Et voilà: Professor-Scholar Rubin, soon faculty member at Hollins College, but not before a fascinatingly told stint as Associate Editor of the Richmond News-Leader.
An intelligent, thoughtful, and always companionable history of a lost era—and of one man’s intellectual journey.