AFTER 8 1/2 years, this is my last page as Other Voices editor. And these are my thanks to the many contributors who have made O.V. unique among opposite-editorial pages in American newspapers.
The statistics are in the accompanying essay by Stephen Vicchio, a regular through the 15 years of O.V.'s life. Steve says flattering things about me and my predecessor, Gwinn Owens. But neither of us is responsible for whatever success Other Voices has had in informing, advancing literacy in Baltimore and encouraging diurnal dialog on the events of the day -- from the Challenger explosion the month after I arrived to the O.J. Simpson affair this year.
Whatever success O.V. has achieved is owed to the dozens of essayists and poets who have contributed since O.V. was launched in 1979. The page was the first in Baltimore to encourage nonprofessional writers -- school kids, artists, teachers, cab drivers, homemakers, actors, truck drivers, priests and preachers, lawyers, professors and symphony cellists -- to join nationally syndicated columnists and artists. These contributors have enriched the pages of The Evening Sun and the lives of O.V.'s readers and editors.
Sure, the majority of articles in O.V. have been about the events of the day, but some have reached deep within. I think of Baltimore actress Bess Armstrong's riveting account of how she and her husband decided not to abort a fetus with serious defects. The child lived 5 1/2 months, "the purest expression of love and pain that we will ever have." I think of AIDS sufferer H.B. Johnson Jr.'s dispatches from the Maryland Penitentiary. And of Deborah Armenti, who wrote defiantly and fearfully when she learned she had cancer at 34, then, 11 months later, wrote in resignation -- and love. "Something, maybe the love of friends or God's grace, gives me the strength to endure these last days," she wrote. That second essay was read at her funeral in Hampden. (As was the case with so many other contributors, like the late Eastern Shore poet and essayist Gilbert Byron, I knew Deborah only by phone.)
Poets have also been Other Voices. We learned early on that poetry can be a powerful medium for the expression of opinion. Many op-ed pages simply refuse to publish poetry. O.V.'s two editors have said, "Why not?" And we have, I think, elevated poetry (which fights for literary respectability even in the best of times) an inch or two and perhaps launched a couple of Wordsworths.
Marilyn McCraven takes over this page tomorrow, while I move back to the newsroom to be education editor. She will bring a fresh perspective, and I will welcome it. So will many others who think the rejection slips I've sent demonstrate a deficiency in judgment.
Perhaps they are right.
Turning people down is one of the minuses of this job, but the pluses are far in the majority.
Chief among them is the pleasure of discovering new talent, of saying "Yes!" on seeing a piece of writing that sings. And then of sensing the author's own satisfaction at being published.
Could any mortal ask for a better job?