Columbus Monthly's editor reflects on the importance of telling your own story.
When I started at Columbus Monthly in 2002, we had a back-page column, "Finale," devoted to first-person essays. It was the bane of my existence. Every month, I knew I should contribute to it. But I was profoundly uncomfortable with the idea of writing about myself. Some of it was my private nature. But probably the main reason was my journalism training. I started off in daily newspapers, where objectivity, reporting and telling other people’s stories were valued above all, and first-person writing was considered narcissistic and unimportant.
Even back then, I realized that was a narrow view, especially considering that some of my journalistic heroes (Joan Didion, Hunter Thompson, Calvin Trillin, Lester Bangs) weren’t afraid to inject themselves into their work. But I didn’t fully understand how wrong I was until I began to write more intimately about my own life. In 2012, I wrote a "Finale" column—my second in 10 years, an embarrassingly unproductive rate—about how I courted my wife, a tale of failure, persistence and a surprisingly wise junk man. It was by far the most personal piece I had published, and it drew stronger reactions from readers than pretty much anything else I’d ever done.
That experience was on my mind when I returned to Columbus Monthly in 2015 after three years of freelancing. The “Finale” column was gone, and instead of celebrating its demise as I would have earlier in my career, I missed it. The magazine no longer had a recurring space for more personal, voice-heavy writing, and with the encouragement of then-editor Eric Lyttle, I set out to reestablish one.Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to our weekly newsletters.
For the next two years or so, I oversaw our "Perspective" column, a place for arguments, think pieces and, above all, intimate personal tales. It became one of my favorite parts of the magazine, and readers have enjoyed it, too.
These days, senior editor Suzanne Goldsmith oversees "Perspective," and she’s made it even stronger. This month’s piece ("Nick White: Coming out in Columbus") is a classic example: a funny, touching and charming story from novelist Nick White about how he came out as a gay man in Columbus. You can read plenty of other stories about Columbus’ growing reputation as a gay mecca, but Nick’s personal tale gives it more meaning and emotional weight. And speaking of emotional weight, this issue also includes a second first-person piece ("Novelist Lee Martin’s Improbable Second Chance at Love"). We originally intended this story, written by another Columbus novelist, Lee Martin, to run as a "Perspective," but Lee’s tale was rich enough to grow into something bigger.
I still hold dear those values I learned as a cub reporter covering fires, city council meetings and court hearings. There is no higher journalistic calling than telling someone else’s story. But sometimes, it’s just as important to tell your own.