Gerard W. O'Connor's lighthearted satire on camp in sport, which appears on page 42, came to us, as the phrase goes in the trade, "over the transom." It was unsolicited, unheralded by an agent and its author was unknown to us. It was also, our editors thought, a highly original piece of work, combining literary quality with a sound knowledge of sport—a combination of which, week after week, we are constantly in search. O'Connor, who teaches English at Lowell (Mass.) Technological Institute, has written on sport for a Massachusetts publication but this is his first appearance in a national magazine. The modest note accompanying his manuscript said he hoped his essay on camp represented "a happy compromise between self-indulgence and constructive criticism." We took that to mean that he was fond enough of sport to feel entitled to kid it a little. That is the way we feel, too.
O'Connor is one of several writers whose work has sailed in over a transom that may be narrower than most—so much of SI is written by staff—but a transom that is always open. Whatever comes through it is carefully read by one or more editors, always hoping for a find and determined not to miss one. Normally fallible, editors nervously remember that André Gide, when he was a reader for a French publisher, passed up Marcel Proust. Most free-lancers are also aware of such precedents, which keep their spirits up. One recently wrote to the SI editor who had signed his rejection: "You have failed your excellent magazine by not recognizing a great talent when offered at a modest price."
With due allowance made for the chanciness of taste, SI is proud of the talent we haven't missed. One such writer is Stephen McCarthy, a young graduate student whose moving account of a grim mountain-climbing expedition will appear next week. Another is Ellington White, who mailed us a story on Bermuda fishing five years ago and has done several others since. Occasionally writers themselves come crawling in over the transom. That's how we met Dick Miles. Two years ago he appeared at our door with an idea that led to a humorous piece on table tennis. He has since done two other stories, including the recent profile on the Gardena poker clubs.
Perhaps the best known of this uninvited but extremely welcome group is Bil Gilbert, whose story on houseboats is also in this issue (page 80). Gilbert is now so well established in SI and other national publications that we sometimes forget that he first showed up in the pile of unsolicited manuscripts that rude journalists call "slush." The first response of the editor who saw the name Bil was that a man who couldn't spell any better than that probably would not be right for us. But Gilbert's talent leaped off the page. His first story happened to be a funny one about the difficulties and dangers that go with capturing pigeons to use as bait for trapping hawks. It ran as The Haunted Life of a Pigeonnapper. Later Gilbert wrote a serious and very beautiful article on falconry, which won him wide praise and an invitation from Random House to prepare a book on animals. That was six years ago—and since then, Gilbert has written dozens of articles on many topics.
April 24, 1967
With writers like these to show, is it any wonder we keep a watchful eye on the transom? Up to 100 manuscripts a week are sent to us and all of them are read. Queries on possible stories are also sympathetically examined. They are sometimes hard to answer, though. "I am thinking of writing an article," one letter writer said cagily. "Would you like to buy it if I do?" "We might," we answered, also playing it close to the vest.