The Trib's literary matchmaker 

Editor of Printers Row finds lit soul mates. Plus, the winner of our 32nd annual Golden BAT award!

"With fewer and fewer newspapers, books are taking up the cause of educating people and enlightening them." —Printers Row editor Elizabeth Taylor
  • "With fewer and fewer newspapers, books are taking up the cause of educating people and enlightening them." —Printers Row editor Elizabeth Taylor

Journalism used to be prix fixe. You paid one price for your morning paper and everything came with it: news, sports, stock tables, and comic strips. Culture, scandal, and punditry.

These days, to quote the Tribune's Elizabeth Taylor, "Everything's a la carte." The new way of the world is to turn each course into a separate profit center. The Skyway? Privatize it. Parking meters? Sell the contract to some outfit in Spain. El stops? Ask local businesses to pay to put their names on the stations. Journalism proceeds apace. We can't quite accuse a private business of privatizing, but the Tribune is exploring the theory that even if today's consumers don't want to pay for news of value, maybe they'll cough up for value plus. A couple of years ago the Tribune played around with the idea of offering subscribers an enhanced Sunday product called Five Star for five bucks beyond the cost of the standard Sunday paper. That project didn't get past the dummy stage. But the Tribune scaled it back and tried again. In February it launched Printers Row, a 24-page Sunday literary supplement that costs Tribune subscribers $99 a year, nonsubscribers $149. Included with the section is a booklet offering a short work of original fiction.

Taylor edits Printers Row. The Tribune chooses to call its subscribers "members," and I'm told—not by Taylor—that there aren't enough of them yet to cover the section's costs. Senior editors will decide one day whether Printers Row has earned its keep or must shut down. It's up to Taylor, fully aware of how precarious everything is in journalism, to see to it that readers who wonder why they have to pay any surcharge at all for a books section nevertheless feel they're getting their money's worth. Her big strength is that she's as nuts about reading as they are.

"Literature is another form of news," she tells me, "and with fewer and fewer newspapers, books are taking up the cause of educating people and enlightening them." In her view, Printers Row has two big jobs to do. "We need to offer critical appraisal of new books," she says. "I also think it's important to inspire people to read widely and encounter new authors and ideas—to feel invested and follow literature as they would follow news, to think of authors as people to follow."

On April 1, Printers Row published what Taylor considers a "perfect feature story." The Tribune's Mary Schmich wrote about Clare Cavanagh, a professor of Slavic languages at Northwestern and the translator, from Polish into English, of the late poet Wislawa Szymborska, who won a Nobel Prize in 1996.

"We never think of the translator—I don't," says Taylor. But a conversation with Schmich changed that. Schmich admires Szymborska so much that she praised her in Poetry magazine as the author of "my most dog-eared book of poems," and when she died two months ago eulogized her in the Tribune as "my constant companion." It was Cavanagh's translations Schmich was reading. And last year a book by Cavanagh on Polish poets won the National Book Critics award for criticism.

"Basically, I'm a literary matchmaker," Taylor tells me. "I have set three couples up on blind dates and they've married—and I feel the same way about books." Schmich's piece on Cavanagh was matchmaking squared. Taylor introduced readers of Printers Row to the Chicagoan whose translations "introduced Szymborska's poetry to a whole new audience."

She has other blind dates in mind. "My literary heroine of the moment is Edith Pearlman," says Taylor. "She's an example of a writer who didn't rush to publish a book but kept laboring, writing these short stories, getting them published in small journals. Ann Patchett told me about her. She wrote the introduction to [Pearlman's] Binocular Vision, her new and collected short stories. She hoped Pearlman would move beyond what she called 'secret handshake status.'"

Taylor will do what she can to change that. She invited Pearlman to the Tribune's next Printers Row Lit Fest in June. "And I'm going to try my best to persuade her to offer one of her stories for the insert in Printers Row." Taylor can't afford to pay for the stories she inserts, but she hopes that won't keep her from getting good ones from writers like Pearlman who are used to getting next to nothing for their fiction anyway.

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