Tuesday, April 19, 2011

R.I.P. Jeanne Leiby

Detail of the cover for the Autumn 2010 issue of the Southern Review

It is saddening and shocking to report the sudden unexpected death of a friend, writer, editor, and idea woman, Jeanne Leiby. Jeanne appeared on the scene only recently to steer the Southern Review, LSU's revered literary journal, through the choppy waters of contemporary writing and under her watch, it became suddenly a better, more vibrant thing. She and I became friends after a reading in their former offices, and over a series of quick lunches hatched ideas. Let's do a reading series! Write me an essay on that! Review this book for me! These are things that Jeanne asked me to do for her, for the Review, and for myself.

I came to realize that Jeanne was quick to do that with everyone, to throw a match at every potential fuse with hopes that something would spark up. None of the things she asked of me came to fruition, for myriad reasons, but none of that mattered, for the idea of them existed indelibly in the world, and that, if nothing else, is what a writer, what a reader, what an editor, what an idea woman does. Those ideas still hang in the air, reverberating with her nervous zeal; she was a transplanted Michiganite and her step-to-it Midwesternness offered a much needed counterpoint to the narcissistic Southern malaise.

Jeanne would call people to tell them a piece was accepted. I thought that was classy as hell.

I haven't read Jeanne's book Downriver, but I will. I haven't written that book review she wanted, but I will, even if she's no longer around to want it or to forget that she ever asked for it and ask for something else in the process. Jeanne was a civic-minded person, so as details get sorted out, I suspect there will be some sort of donation, and I'll do that too. But, I suppose the best way to honor an idea woman like Jeanne is to write something, read something, submit something, talk about something, do something and OK, Jeanne, I will.


  1. I'm so sorry to hear about this. Jeanne published a story of mine in Southern R. and I found her both wise and kind.
    RIP Jeanne.
    Karl Taro Greenfeld

  2. I woke up to this news today (found this via HTMLgiant)--so sad. Thank you for this kind and wonderful post--she once commented on my blog, and I was so impressed by her open minded, involved stance as an editor. She also wrote me a very kind rejection letter once. I'm so sad to learn we've lost her.

  3. Excellent tribute, Alex. The Press building feels very empty today without her.

  4. Beautifully, feelingly put. Thanks.

    “An unread TIME magazine waited for him. Nixon resigned a week ago; the cover story and subsequent articles promised pathos, fury, confusion, and – if he were lucky – scalding anger. Nobody likes to be lied to and now the whole country was behaving like a jilted lover. Good reading for a Sunday afternoon.“

  5. I served on a panel with Jeanne at the Sannibel island Writers Conference, and enjoyed a reading of her work at fairhope, Al. She struck me as sincere, dedicated, and truly aware of the position she held and her ability to help other writers advance. Shhe did all she could to help and inspire me! She will be missed!

  6. I am very sorry to hear this terrible news. I grew up with Jeanne and knew that she would be successful in whatever she pursued. Prayers to her family and friends. Linda Sadler Hogge

  7. Thank you for this thoughtful tribute. Jean's calls meant the world to me. I was a great admirer of her energy and ability as an editor, and of the fantastic jobs she did at Florida Review and The Southern Review. Wishing you all good wishes and comfort.

  8. I a desolated by this news. Jeanne was a fabulous colleague and we will miss her big personality in the editing world.

  9. While we are left behind to mourn in our grief-the passing of Jeanne Leiby-the angels have welcomed a new member to the panoply of heaven-a writer to edit the jumbled manuscript of our lives. Jeanne-give us the form and substance we so sorely need.

    Roy Blondeau

  10. I have an essay in the Autumn 2010 issue that has a detail of the cover illustration pictured on this site. Jeanne called me to accept it, of course. Over the years she called me several times, once to accept a previous essay, once to explain why she chose not to accept another. I last spoke with her in February, at the AWP meeting in Washington--and in that conversation she was, as always, gracious, enthusiastic, and on-the-spot. I mentioned to her that one publisher had rejected my essay book because all of the essays had already appeared in journals. "That's not right," she said. "I want to look into that." That was Jeanne. Her book of stories, DownRiver, is excellent, and everyone who misses her as an editor should know her as an author too. Read it.
    Lee Zacharias

  11. Jeanne was a dear friend from the moment we met in 1984 at U of M, all those grand 'ol Ann Arbor days and through Bread Loaf--I never would have even gone to Bread Loaf if not at Jeanne's urging. We did all 5 summers together up in Ripton, Vermont. Best years of my life. I'm still there 24 summers later and was so looking forward to seeing Jeanne again this August at the Conference. Maybe take a swim in Johnson Pond. Dance in the Barn. Head up to Gilmore. . . I am still stunned. Jeanne, I will reach out to your folks and sister. My heart is broken. Part of me is with you.
    --Pete (Newton)