David Marcus

by John Boland

I have had many editors in a long career in journalism, but it was the Irish Press’s literary editor, David Marcus, who left the most lasting impression on me.

Even before joining the paper at the age of 22, I had submitted poems to its New Irish Writing page and David had published some of them, so when, soon after joining the Press, I was asked to work as his assistant I was thrilled. During that year or so, I learned an awful lot from his dedication, judgment, counsel and friendship, though looking back I think I took his unassuming presence for granted, and it was only in later years that I fully realised his importance, not just to me, but to generations of young writers.

Because it appeared every week in a national newspaper, New Irish Writing was the place in which to be published, whether you were an established or unknown writer, and over the course of its lifetime almost everyone who’s now known in fiction and poetry appeared in David’s page. There was never anything like it before and probably never will be again, and everyone who cares anything about literature should mourn David’s recent passing.

Nowadays, if you’re an aspiring poet or short story writer seeking publication – or simply a reader in search of the new and challenging – you’ll have to turn to the little magazines, and there aren’t so many of those anymore. In the heyday of David’s page, there were quite a few worthy alternatives, including the Dublin Magazine, the Kilkenny Magazine, The Honest Ulsterman, Threshold, Cyphers, Atlantis and others whose names escape me.

However, recessionary times and the economics of publishing mean that what was always a risky venture has less chance than ever of surviving. And so those grant-threatened magazines that do dare to attempt the almost impossible – and The Stinging Fly and The Shop seem to me outstanding in their bravery and impressive in their content – deserve, not just our praise, but our support, too.

But we live at a time where, as Granta magazine’s acting editor John Freeman said recently, we have “an enormous glut” of books which “underestimate their readers and their potential willingness to go where they haven’t been before.” They’re the readers David Marcus encouraged through his encouragement of promising young writers and through an innate discernment that enabled him to read the thousands of manuscripts that arrived on his desk and to distinguish the excellent from the mediocre or merely good. And for that a generation of writers and readers should be grateful.

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