Writers and Friends is Edward Weeks’s memoir of his career as the ninth editor of The Atlantic, one of the country’s most distinguished and long-lived journals. Weeks’s tenure as editor, the second longest in the magazine’s history, spanned the years from 1938 to 1966 and more than three hundred issues of the magazine. Writers and Friends chronicles Weeks’s efforts during those years to increase The Atlantic’s circulation and to maintain its reputation as a thoughtful journal of national opinion and world literature. A demonstration of his assertion, at the outset, that editing is the “friendliest of professions,” the memoir is also a gallery of deftly drawn portraits of friends who are writers and writers who are friends.
Aware that The Atlantic was born out of a response to important issues, and knowing that the magazine was liveliest when the country was aroused, Weeks assumed the position of editor-in-chief when The Atlantic was barely solvent, when the country was still in the Depression, and when war was looming in Europe. Weeks’s task was to improve the financial condition of the magazine while at the same time making it a vital force, addressing issues of national and international scope. Just as The Atlantic had engaged the issues of Darwinism and the abolition of slavery when it was founded in 1857, Weeks, during his tenure as editor, sought out the best writing on economic matters; on American foreign policy issues during the prewar and World War II years; on domestic and foreign issues during the postwar and Cold War years; during his last years as editor, on subjects such as civil rights, Vietnam, racism, education, science, technology, and the environment. Weeks’s job as editor involved sensing shifting moods and opinions in the country; trying to know which events, whether obvious or seemingly insignificant, were going to change the country and the world; and finding, for each issue, the right mix of writing in order to make The Atlantic “a monthly message as to man on earth.”
These efforts brought changes in the magazine’s format. With the end of World War II, page and print size were enlarged. The editorial matter of each issue was introduced in four “Atlantic Reports.” A department of light prose and verse, “Accent on Living,” was introduced. Distinguished new fiction appeared under the heading “Atlantic Firsts.” These changes (still others came later), along with a radio program, “Meet Mr. Weeks,” as well as the use of test marketing techniques, enabled Weeks to steer a course characterized by both continuity and change.
In Weeks’s early years as editor, the magazine was kept alive by the sale of Atlantic Monthly Press books (the Depression having brought a decline in circulation). The war years brought increased circulation (but also paper rationing), followed by a postwar decline, financial difficulties, and the low point in Weeks’s career. Nevertheless, he persisted. Special numbers, such as the ninetieth and one-hundredth anniversary issues, and Atlantic “Special Supplement” issues such as the one on “Psychiatry in American Life” (July, 1961), resulted in increased subscriptions and record newsstand sales. Special book projects such as Jubilee: One Hundred Years of the Atlantic (1957) and The Atlantic Book of British and American Poetry (1958), edited by Edith Sitwell, also helped the magazine show annual profits throughout the decade of 1955 to 1964.
One pictures an editor at work bound to a desk piled high with manuscripts, and Weeks makes it clear that his position as editor involved long hours of routine copyediting, but his memoir also suggests that perhaps the most important aspect of his role as editor involved travel. During his tenure at The Atlantic, Weeks frequently lectured at colleges and universities. His travels enabled him to know the country in all its diversity, enabled him to contact writers, and contributed to his “editorial reach.” Trips to Washington, to England, and (after World War II) to Russia and the satellite countries brought Weeks into contact with writers whose work he was able to commission for The Atlantic. Whether dining, lecturing, fishing, inspecting war plants in England, or on a tour of Russia sponsored by the State Department, Weeks seldom missed an opportunity to “go...
(The entire section is 1817 words.)