4:47PM

It ain't over

The laundry is done; now the notebook gets unpacked.

I filled the better part of a good-sized Moleskine over five days at the ATCA conference—notes I intend to turn into a widely read, much-talked-about feature this fall in Dramatics magazine, where I’m fortunate enough to have a full-time job. Working title: “The Crisis in Criticism,” but I’ll confess, my first night in Waterford I wondered if I hadn’t better come up with a more ominous slug. After a fine reading at the O’Neill—“The Dream of the Burning Boy,” by David West Read, about a high school English teacher and a gifted student—I boarded the bus back to the New London Radisson with about twenty of my colleagues from across the country. Virtually all of these good people were, I noticed, well over 60 years old.

If I needed more evidence that I was hanging onto a dying profession by my fingernails, this was it.

As the conference went on, my own generation—arts journalists who still have most of our careers ahead of us, Google willing—seemed better represented. (I learned that some youngsters had stayed late at Blue Gene’s Pub that first night, whereas I’d ridden back with the early-to-bed crowd.) And while we spent a lot of time bemoaning the negative aspects of print’s decline (shorter stories, fractured readership, shaky professional standards, drastically fewer jobs paying livable wages), we also talked about ways in which the Web might actually make our work better. More vital. More relevant. More fun.

And the more time I spent with my senior colleagues—people like ATCA chair Chris Rawson, who really knows how to throw a conference (down to providing beach towels, nice!), and Simon Saltzman, president of the Outer Critics Circle and a New Jersey-based writer with curtainup.com—the more I stepped back, seeing my own career in a wider, more promising, even inspiring frame. Sure, things are different. But we’re all still doing the same work, really, and for the same reasons.

“Every year at this conference I find myself having a conversation about what we are passionate about… that makes me feel a part of a community,” Saltzman told us, during our last gathering at the hotel Sunday morning. “This remembering of the experience of being a critic with other critics who share what I love is so important to me. This is what brings me back.”

 “I always return from an ATCA conference,” Rawson added, “determined to become a better critic.”

Me too. Especially now.

Julie York Coppens, Cincinnati, OH