• July 20, 2017
In 2015, A Public Space Emerging Writer Fellow Jai Chakrabarti embarked on a mentorship with writers Elizabeth Gaffney and Mary-Beth Hughes. His fellowship story, "A Small Sacrifice for an Enormous Happiness," was published in APS No. 24 and was later selected for the O. Henry Prize Stories. Here, Jai and his mentors trace the Fellowship's timeline, from Jai's impressive submission to the award-winning final version. The trio, and story, illustrate how the editing process is not a series of surgical cuts, but a conversation—writer and editor learning from, and surprising, each other.
MBH: I have a writer friend who insists that being edited is always akin to putting your baby through the bars of a gorilla’s cage! That hasn’t been my experience for the most part. I’ve had editors who are skillful at saying just enough to send me back to the manuscript a little more receptive.
I did have one gorilla, though. I took a class with an editor once who returned my story with black diagonal slashes through the pages and little explanation. My practice in revision was so entrenched that I resubmitted the story revised, not to his pleasure, maybe, but definitely to his surprise. "Now, this is a writer!" he said, holding up the latest disaster. Meaning the dogged willingness to revise, revise. I want to say now that I don’t think his cuts were unwarranted. The story rambled. And taking everything out as he suggested revealed a straighter line. Anyway, the story still lurks around my office…
But it’s something I think about when I work with students, or when reading for a friend. I want to emulate the editors who open up the world of a story, who point to possibility. It seems a fruitful approach to say: here! and here!
To read work by Jai Chakrabarti, Elizabeth Gaffney, and Mary-Beth Hughes, browse our archives.
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