Virginia Quarterly Ties the Glossies In Magazine Award Wins

By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 10, 2006

No magazine dominated the competition at the National Magazine Awards in New York last night, but VQR -- the tiny, obscure Virginia Quarterly Review -- came pretty close.

Nominated for six awards in four categories, the University of Virginia-based literary journal with a circulation of 7,000 snagged two awards -- one for fiction, the other for general excellence.

"We're pleased," VQR's editor, Ted Genoways, said after the ceremony. "We're still trying to soak it all in."

Since taking over the magazine three years ago, Genoways has used eye-popping graphics, colorful photographs and comics to enliven a staid literary journal founded in 1925.

"I wanted to take the best parts of commercial publishing and graft them onto the best parts of journal publishing," said Genoways, 34. "We've tried to use photography and graphic elements in service of 10,000-word pieces on serious subjects. We want to make these pieces seem appealing, not intimidating."

Time, Esquire, Harper's, Rolling Stone, New York and the New Yorker also won two awards apiece in the ceremony. The awards are sponsored by the American Society of Magazine Editors and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Time won the general excellence award for magazines with a circulation of more than 2 million. It also won the award for single-topic issues for "An American Tragedy," its coverage of Hurricane Katrina, which the judges called "a triumph of the newsmagazine's craft."

Esquire won the general excellence award for magazines with a circulation between 500,000 and 1 million, plus the award for profile writing for Robert Kurson's "Into the Light," a piece about a blind man who regained his sight through a stem-cell-and-cornea transplant.

Lewis Lapham, who just retired after a quarter-century as editor of Harper's, picked up two going-away presents -- one award for general excellence in the 100,000-to-250,000-circulation category and the criticism award for the book reviews of Wyatt Mason, which the judges described as "at once compassionate and ruthless."

The New Yorker won the "columns and commentary" award for Hendrik Hertzberg's "Talk of the Town" essays, which the judges described as "rising above the cacophony of competing voices in the punditry industrial complex." It also won the public service award for Elizabeth Kolbert's three-part series on global warming, which the judges called "a call to arms for all of us to confront the climate catastrophe we are leaving for our children."

Global warming was also the subject of Sebastiao Salgado's beautiful black-and-white photos of Antarctica and Patagonia, which appeared in Rolling Stone and won the award for photo essays. That magazine, which just published its 1,000th issue, also won the reporting award for James Bamford's "The Man Who Sold the War," an exposé of Washington PR man John Rendon and his role in touting the idea of invading Iraq.

New York, the ultimate city magazine, won the general excellence award in the 250,000-to-500,000-circulation category plus the design award for what the judges called "an inventive mix of modernism and classicism, studied elegance and playful irreverence."

Vanity Fair won the essays award for "A Matter of Life and Death" by Marjorie Williams, a former Washington Post reporter and columnist who died of cancer last year, leaving a husband and two young children.

The American Scholar, a Washington-based literary magazine, won the feature writing award for Priscilla Long's essay on the human genome.

ESPN the Magazine, which the judges called "visually arresting, snappily written and always energetic," won the general excellence award in the 1 million-to-2 million circulation category.

"We won the most coveted award, the award of the future," said Chris Johns, editor in chief of the National Geographic.

That would be the award for excellence online, which the Geographic won for its Web site ( "Whether it's a live webcam on an African watering hole or a virtual tour of King Tut's tomb," the judges said, "visitors are guaranteed to be delighted and inspired."

The event was not as raucous as VQR's Genoways had hoped. "It was actually quite proper," he said, as he left with his two awards. "Everybody acted very respectably. Now we're going to go out and tip a few glasses to celebrate."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company