77 North Washington Street

GREAT editors are never exactly alike. Edward Weeks, the extroverted ninth editor of this magazine (1938-1966), was clubbable, a golfer, and a fly-fisherman. He spent a lot of his time away from Boston, traveling, and once described himself as "the most cheerful lecturer on the circuit." When he returned to the office, he would hold splendiferous editorial meetings at which he recited stories about prospects. One of these was Ved Mehta, a highly promising student whom Weeks encountered at Pomona College in 1954. Mehta was sure to attract notice: he was a native of Lahore, India, brilliantly accomplished despite having been blind from the age of four. He had written a substantial part of an autobiography, and Weeks encouraged him. Parts of it appeared in these pages, and the book was published in 1957 by Atlantic-Little, Brown, under the title Face to Face. Mehta went to Balliol College, Oxford, and, subsequently, to graduate work at Harvard, along the way writing about his return to India in Walking the Indian Streets (1960).

This book, which first appeared in The New Yorker, was edited by William Shawn, the editor of the magazine, a man as reclusive as Weeks was extroverted. In 1961 Shawn offered Mehta a position on the New Yorker staff, where Mehta remained for thirty-three years, writing for magazine and book publication a series about Indian life in this century and, simultaneously, a remarkable cycle of seven autobiographical volumes about his life in India and his emigration. A few of these volumes deliberately retraced the years recounted in Face to Face, moving "by a commodious vicus of recirculation" back through Mehta's earliest childhood and family life in India, and described, now in exquisite detail, the stages of his education. In the autobiographical books he once again approached his first encounters, forty years ago, with Edward Weeks and William Shawn. His portrait of Shawn in this issue is an advance adaptation from his new book, Remembering Mr. Shawn's New Yorker: The Invisible Art of Editing, to be published next month by Overlook Press.

No one knows an editor better, or can write better about the art of editing, than the person edited -- especially a man who once told an interviewer, "I am an amalgam of five cultures, Indian, British, American, blind, and The New Yorker." It is in the special culture of Shawn's New Yorker that the four other strains in Mehta's writing life meet; now he describes the man who edited the articles that made the books that put a girdle round the earth, bringing Mehta's India to the United States and putting his writings into print in Gujarati, Urdu, Marathi, and Hindi.


The Atlantic Monthly; April 1998; 77 North Washington Street; Volume 281, No. 4; page 6.