Update: Founder Marc Smirnoff, Managing Editor Leave The Oxford American

The Oxford American founder and Editor Marc Smirnoff and Managing Editor Carol Ann Fitzgerald have left the nonprofit magazine, Publisher Warwick Sabin said Monday.

Sabin, who will be interim editor, would not comment on the circumstances surrounding the departures, saying that the magazine does not comment on personnel matters. He said publication of the print magazine and its website would continue as normal. The next print edition is scheduled for Sept. 1, he said.

The departures come after Sabin on Wednesday locked magazine employees out of its office at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. At the time, Sabin told the Democrat-Gazette that a personnel investigation was under way.

The UCA office remains closed and the investigation continues, Sabin said. Law enforcement is not involved. Sabin hopes to have the UCA office reopened by Tuesday, but he said he's not certain when he'll be able to do so.

According to the Form 990 filed with the Internal Revenue Service by The Oxford American Literary Project Inc., Smirnoff was paid $50,000 in salary (plus $3,414 in other compensation) as editor in calendar year 2010.

As Editor

Sabin said Monday that in the interim editor position, he will retain his publisher responsibilities and will take on a managerial role over the editorial staff, which has three full-time employees and five interns. The business side of the operations has five full-time employees.

Sabin will continue to work from the magazine's Little Rock office. The remaining editorial staff will retain their office on the campus of UCA. The separate offices have created "no problems that I'm aware of," Sabin said.

"What I'll be doing is overseeing the editorial operation, taking responsibility for it. But the bulk of the editing will continue under the able supervision of our current editorial staff," Sabin said.

He may also do some editing, but prefers to abide by his principle as a publisher of providing "100 percent editorial independence to the editorial staff," he said.

Sabin has editing experience. He worked as an associate editor during the summer of 1999 for Foreign Affairs magazine in New York and as an associate editor for three years at the Arkansas Times of Little Rock.  

In his interim role, Sabin will also be assessing the structure of The Oxford American's editorial staff to determine if any job positions will be altered or added, he said.

"I plan also to approach these decisions creatively and with an open mind because I'd like to enlist as much creative talent as possible to inject new energy and vitality into the publication," he said. "... the organization itself is in really good health and the staff today is very positive and very motivated and very confident about the future.

"I don't think there will be any immediate plans to change anything about the character and ethos of The Oxford American."

Ups and Downs

Smirnoff, who founded the self-proclaimed "Southern magazine of good writing" in Oxford, Miss., in 1992, led the publication through three incarnations.

Launched as a quarterly, The Oxford American was a hit with fanatical subscribers, publishing pieces by literary notables including Charles Portis, Roy Blount Jr., and Kevin Brockmeier and unearthing unseen work by Southern writers including William Faulkner, Walker Percy, Zora Neale Hurston and James Dickey.

But it was a hard sell for advertisers. Arkansas native and author John Grisham helped support the magazine with personal funds through the 90s, but by 2002 the Oxford American was all but dead.

That's when Russ McDonough and At Home Media Group of Little Rock took the magazine under his wing, brought it to the River Market District and relaunched it as a bimonthly in 2003. The revival was short lived; the magazine shuttered after its July/August edition that year.

In 2004, UCA swooped and struck a deal to produce the magazine, providing 1,096-SF in on-campus office space as well as cash support the magazine plans eventually to repay. The university gave the magazine a total of $690,000 in cash over the course of five years, but ended the cash gifts in 2008 with $140,000 to help the magazine survive a case of embezzlement.

Now officially a nonprofit organization, the magazine has an office in Little Rock and at UCA. It has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and is planning to transform a 15,000-SF space on Main Street in Little Rock into a site for nightly cultural programs and a Southern restaurant.

In November, Arkansas Business cited IRS documents that showed the magazine had $1.4 million in revenue in 2010, and expenses of $1.3 million. Government grants from the Arkansas Arts Council, Arkansas Humanities Council and the NEA provided $94,120 of the revenue.