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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    UA alumni writers come home for Tucson Book Festival

    The Tucson Festival of Books will welcome many alumni back to the UA campus this weekend, two of whom are masters of the newspaper industry and have fond memories of their days as students.

    Daniel Jones has spent the last decade compiling the popular “Modern Love” column of the New York Times. He graduated from the UA creative writing master’s program in 1991, and will be presenting a love-themed discussion on Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Arizona Daily Star tent.

    Bill Walsh graduated from the School of Journalism in 1984 and is now a copy editor at The Washington Post. He will share his passion for grammar and words in a presentation on Sunday at 2:30 p.m., also in the Arizona Daily Star tent.

    In their jobs, both alumni have to be the bearers of bad news at times. Jones is challenged with handpicking a single essay from a pool of about 120 submissions each week for his column. As a newspaper editor, Walsh operates like a triage nurse; he is assigned to salvage a reporter’s writing, which may be dead on arrival.
    “I celebrate the pet peeves, but also put them in perspective,” said Walsh, who had childhood ambitions of becoming a psychologist. After discovering the mathematical requirements involved with getting that degree, he chose to dissect people’s words instead of their minds. Walsh first began copy editing while working at the Daily Wildcat in the early 1980s.

    One of Walsh’s biggest pet peeves these days is the habit of writing phrases like “gin-martini,” when it is common knowledge that martinis already have gin. This may be one of the examples discussed during Walsh’s Sunday panel, which will reference his book, “Yes, I Could Care Less: How to Be a Language Snob Without Being a Jerk.”

    “Just because something isn’t wrong, doesn’t mean it’s right,” Walsh said when explaining the frequent misuse of the word “literally.”

    Walsh said that he attributes his love of language to the literary environment his mother created for his family living in Mesa, Ariz. Memories of his mother correcting his step-father’s language impacted Walsh and his siblings so much that his two brothers are also copy editors.

    Walsh’s advice for young writers is to not get trapped in one type of voice. He says that reading a diverse selection of magazines and newspapers is helpful for discovering a distinctive voice in such a competitive market.

    Daniel Jones agreed with Walsh that there is a wealth of content being produced by writers, but he said that there’s not enough money going around.

    Since beginning work as a columnist for the New York Times, Jones estimated that he’s read about 50,000 essays about people’s love lives. He said he tries to find pieces that not only tell good stories, but also articulate valid points about mankind’s responses to love.

    “The column lets readers know that they are not alone,” said Jones, who got his current job after two essays he and his wife wrote, “The Bitch in the House” and “The Bastard on the Couch,” were discovered by the New York Times style editor. Jones met his wife at the UA, where both were enrolled as graduate students.

    “[The UA] really encouraged me,” Jones said. “The teachers got you to think about writing in a new way.”

    Jones’ panel on Saturday will include selected readings from his book “Love Illuminated,” a question and answer session and the presentation of animated adaptations of Jones’ various columns.

    Of all the thousands of essays he’s read at the New York Times, Jones said that one of his favorites is “What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage,” published in 2006. The essay remains one of the most popular articles of the newspaper’s history, and Jones says that the author has even signed a movie deal.

    “The great thing about sticking with this job is that I can begin publishing more unusual material,” Jones said.

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