The experience of editing this volume has taught me so much. As a doctoral candidate, I write constantly, and as an assistant editor for the journals Harlot and Kairos, as well as a freelance editor, I edit constantly, too. Much of my writing ends up being collaborative on a variety of levels, from actually working together to providing solidarity and emotional support (as in my writing group) to lending editorial and collegial attention (as my dissertation committee does for my evolving chapters). Much of my editing, however, is solitary, unfurling inside my own brain and drawing on my own experiences as a writer, a teacher, and a person with an eye for grammatical detail. The experience of working with ten graduate student authors, assisted by eight undergraduate student editors, has helped me think even more deeply and seriously about the always useful, often unexpected power of collaboration within the writing process. When you write or edit collaboratively, you are always learning, always absorbing, always adjusting your existing analysis, always thinking about your audience.
I think of editing as both singular and duetted forms of motion. You first enter into the author’s argument, via their paragraphs, sentences, and words, and you try to see a bit beyond what they saw when they were writing. You are uniquely suited to do so, because you are outside their consciousness; their words aren’t your darlings. So you explore the argument they’re making and look for tweaks that will reveal the argument that could be; you help elaborate partial meanings and point to needed context and excise unintended repetition. You help reshape their work while deeply respecting it. The duet part of the dance begins when the author has read your comments and they reply—you then move back and forth with them. For me, that part is often the most generative and surprising; it’s where I learn the most about the work the author has produced. Importantly, I believe that the duet is also an ethical exchange: editing allows one (even requires one) to step into someone else’s thinking, to translate, to shape anew, to think beyond, and both author and editor participate in these actions, from their different sides of the curtain.
On a more practical level, editing is an interesting beast because it involves taking in an author’s hard-worked words and turning them a little more outward. As writers, so much of the initial meaning that we make is internal: we know what we’ve read and what we want to say about it, and sometimes we forget that other people haven’t necessarily had those experiences too. The audiences we want to reach are not only out there but imaginary, most of the time, and so an editor’s primary jobs are, as I see them, to catch things the author can’t be expected to catch, to bridge the psychic gap between author and audience, and to help the author present their ideas in the clearest, most accessible way possible. The graduate students who wrote these chapters entered so open-heartedly into the editing dance with me, taking my suggestions with grace and teaching me more about their chosen subjects as we went back and forth with comments and questions. I learn so much in my work, too, with the whole Futures team, as I have from the class I took with Cathy and Bill Kelly and from the student mentor pilot program. Cathy’s particular commitment to equity, creativity, participation, and generosity are so helpful and warm and, I’m convinced, will change the scope of public higher education.
The most powerful part of editing this book was, for me, my collaboration with the undergraduate student editors. I met them in July 2016 when I dropped in on their mentorship training to offer an editing workshop to the whole mentoring group, after having helped train the students in the pilot mentoring program in the summer and fall of 2015, and I am so impressed with the work of the Futures team in bringing the current crew together. There, in a subterranean Grad Center meeting room, I was knocked sideways by their engagement with what I often semi-self-deprecatingly refer to as “nerdy grammar stuff.” My writing and lit students at Queens College know that standard English grammar is a tricky concept for me as a teacher and as an editor: I respect its utility and usefulness while remaining deeply suspicious of the classed, racialized, and gendered expectations it foists on a reader and infiltrates into a society. This is a view of grammar that I often have to explain to students, but this group already understood it. The air crackled with their energy as they piped up with comments and questions. Their attention to other aspects of editing, and their insightful questions about this particular book project, were both heartening and productively challenging.
The smaller group who self-selected to work with me on the book’s editing did so at the end of a busy summer for all of them. Sujoy Bhowmik, David Brandt, Cassandra Castelant, Cherishe Cumma, Yelena Dzhanova, Brenell Harrison, and Hurriya Hassan are all such sparklingly sharp thinkers and deeply ethical editors. I expected a lot of them, given the rigor of the program they self-selected into, and they really blew me away. The conversations we had in our initial meetings immediately began building an editing community, and the ideas and questions people raised, from methods of commenting to citation systems to how to best to convey feedback to authors, are ones that enrich my editing work still. The virtual “conversation” of our work together in our shared Google Docs was vibrant and interesting. To return to the metaphor of motion, our duet was staggered, not always in the same temporal frame, with comments and questions left and answers and further questions given later, but it was no less powerful than the way this kind of conversation can play out in a writing classroom or in an editorial meeting.
Thanks again to Cathy Davidson, the Futures Initiative team, the fabulous student editors, and the graduate student authors. And to the reader: dance with us!