Any podcast episode or radio segment where I get to hear Lewis Lapham talk at length gets my automatic recommendation. Hence: I automatically recommend you listen to this 50-minute interview of Mr. Lapham on the Longform podcast.
In particular I liked this anecdote Mr. Lapham tells about how he was fired from, and then asked to return to, Harper’s Magazine. You can skip to the corresponding audio from the interview and listen along:
In 1980, Kohls decides to sell it [Harper’s Magazine], because it’s still losing lots of money. It’s taken over by the MacArthur Foundation in Chicago, and the MacArthur Foundation appoints a board of directors to run the magazine. None of them knew anything about the magazine business. You know, they were investment bankers, philanthropists, academics (ugh)…and I had my first meeting with that board and I knew it was a question of not was I going to be fired, it was just a question of when. …I was fired in the summer of 1981, and then wrote occasional magazine pieces, wrote a column every other week for the Washington Post, began to make, you know, come up with an idea for a book.
But then in 1983 I was rehired at Harper’s Magazine by the young Rick MacArthur, who was representing the MacArthur Foundation’s interest in the magazine; so he asked me to come back and I said I would on two conditions. One, I could redesign the magazine, because I already had the idea in mind, with the index and the readings and the annotation and so on; and two, that all the members of the board who had fired me be themselves fired. And to my surprise, both those conditions were met.
You should listen to the audio, and note how he drops this amazing fact — that he demanded and got the board members fired as a precondition for returning — and then moves right along with the précis of his career as though it were no big deal.
The story reminds me of the similar case of Osmo Vänskä, music director for the Minnesota Orchestra, who in 2013 resigned from the orchestra after a year-long lockout by a similarly clueless board of directors. When after the lockout they asked Vänskä to come back, he too made his return conditional upon the president’s resignation, and got it:
After the lockout ended, Vänskä said Orchestra President Michael Henson would have to step down in order for the orchestra to heal. Orchestra management announced in February that Henson had resigned by mutual agreement. He will step down in August.