Archive for August 5th, 2018

Stanford’s loss is Iowa’s gain: We look forward to your novel, Elaine Ray!

Sunday, August 5th, 2018
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Elaine with another Stanford legend, choreographer Aleta Hayes

This week, one of the most magnificent women ever to grace the Stanford org charts leaves for the harsher climate of the Iowa Writers Workshop, where she will be a resident fellow. (In fairness, any weather would necessarily be harsher than idyllic Palo Alto’s.)

Elaine Ray was the director of the Stanford News Service when I returned to Stanford as the humanities and arts writer for the university over a decade ago. It was an award-winning and nationally recognized institution, with plaques at the entryway signaling its many honors to all visitors. Elaine, a former Boston Globe journalist, was one reason why it was exemplary.

It was also one of the happiest workplaces I have ever known (and had a Stanford-wide reputation for being so). Elaine was a big reason for that, too. Said News Service staffer Pamela Moreland at one of her farewell parties a fortnight ago:

She is a wonderfully demanding editor who allows you to have your own voice and try new things while still adhering to the stylebook and expectations. She sees the big picture while at the same time, she will sweat every detail that you sweat and then some. She knows things before they happen. She never gave me bad advice.

In preparing for this event, I asked a few people to tell me a few things about Elaine. The superlatives came tumbling down:

Best confidante ever
Most considerate person ever
Kindest
Compassionate
No-nonsense in the best way
Best friend a person could have
Consistent
Best running buddy ever

So why is this remarkable woman leaving? The technical reason is “retirement.” But the real reason is that she’s been admitted to the Iowa Writers Workshop, the preeminent training ground for the nation’s best writers. It’s a creative and surprising way to spend a so-called “retirement.”

Elaine and daughter Zuri Adele, actress of “Good Trouble” fame

I wrote about the inspiring turning point to her story on the Book Haven some time ago, and at the party, former News Service videographer Jack Hubbard gave a shout out to me and the Book Haven for my post, “A writer to watch: Elaine Ray wins prize for her first published fiction.”

That was in January 2017, when I wrote: “one of the most beloved people at Stanford for her generosity and kindness, had emerged in fiction with an utterly new voice. We agree with the judge who called it ‘mercilessly exposed and utterly enigmatic,’ throwing light on a lost world that as foreign to most of us as the Incas.” More:

Her reaction to the $1000 award? “Blown away and humbled. The first piece of fiction I’ve ever gotten published wins an award.” According to one of the judges, Thomas McNeely, author of Ghost Horse: “In fewer than twenty pages, Pidgin sketches a world of its narrator of color’s post-colonial migration, political activism, and imprisonment within the choices offered him by history. At the same time, it’s a narrative that seems shaped by mysteries that transcend and yet throw into sharp relief its political moment, the chief one being the brilliant voice of its narrator, who is at once mercilessly exposed and utterly enigmatic. Elaine Ray is a writer who plays by her own rules, and is a writer to watch.”

You can read the entire post here.

“Elaine gets her chutzpah from her mom, who raised the family after Elaine’s father died when she was 13,” said Lisa Trei, the former social science writer at the News Service. “Elaine knew that her dad had worked in the composing room of the Pittsburg Courier but she didn’t know that he had also written a weekly column for The New York Age focusing on racial injustice. In 2010, quite by chance, Elaine stumbled upon the columns and created a blog about them. The fact that she wrote for Essence and The Boston Globe before she ever knew about her family legacy shows that printer’s ink is in her blood, for sure.”

Godspeed! We look forward to your novel, Ms. Ray.