Roger Hodge: Texan, Literary 'Omnivore'

The Texan who’s come to Little Rock by way of New York City wears a ready grin and calls Arkansas novelist Charles Portis “part of my pantheon” of revered writers.

He also doesn’t know Marc Smirnoff.

Roger Hodge is a former editor of Harper’s Magazine in New York and current editor of The Oxford American in Conway.

(Click here to view Arkansas Business' recent video interview with Hodge.) 

He replaced Smirnoff, The OA’s ousted founder and editor, on Sept. 1. Publisher Warwick Sabin and The OA’s board fired Smirnoff in July.

Hodge sidestepped questions about the ex-editor when interviewed last week. However, he was open with his admiration for the 20-year-old national magazine Smirnoff created and repeatedly revived.

“The OA’s always been one of my favorite magazines. I’ve read it carefully and consistently over the years, have always followed it and mourned it when it went out of business and cheered when it came back,” Hodge said. “When Warwick called me and I found out that The OA was in need of an editor, I immediately was interested. The appeal is to edit a great American magazine. And, frankly, there aren’t that many that I would be interested in editing now, but there’s something special about this magazine.”

The OA is a general literary magazine with wide appeal and no direct competition, he said. The quarterly publication has a print circulation of about 55,000.

“I think the reader is an intelligent, literate person who wants to experience stories about this region that has produced so much great writing, so much great art,” Hodge said.  

OA Changes

“It’s hard to say exactly what the changes will be because a lot of the changes will be a matter of me making decisions about assigning, what writers I’m talking to, how I’m going to direct them,” Hodge said. “When an editor takes over a magazine, he has to — or she has to — enter into a conversation with the traditions of the magazine and the way things have been done before. So that’s a process I’m engaged in, and something new will result from that interaction.”

He plans to make the magazine’s format more consistent than in the past. “I think you want creative chaos in a publication, but you also want structure so readers know where to find things,” he said.

Hodge is also interested in adding more long-form literary journalism.  

Unlike Smirnoff, Hodge doesn’t necessarily plan to live in Arkansas. Hodge’s wife Deborah is a teacher in New York, and she and their two sons, ages 15 and 10, are staying in Brooklyn while Hodge commutes southward some and primarily edits remotely.

­­­Writer b­­­­­­­­y Accident

Hodge, 45, has lived about half his life in the southern U.S.

He grew up near the Mexican border in Del Rio, Texas, with the Rio Grande less than a mile from his house. His family has ranched in Texas since the 1880s.

Hodge attended the University of the South at Sewanee, Tenn., where he earned a degree in comparative literature.

He became a writer “just by accident, like most people,” he said. “Well, I guess, you get out of college and you don’t know what to do. I just started writing. And I had different jobs. And we moved around some. And I had many, many jobs — from line cook in a restaurant to insurance adjuster, for awhile.”

Hodge left the South in 1991 to pursue a graduate degree in philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York. He then picked up an internship as a fact checker at Harper’s in 1996.

“Like everybody in those jobs, you start off working for free and when somebody leaves, you get the full-time job,” Hodge said. “And then I stayed for 14 years. From intern to editor-in-chief. … At a place like that, you can do what you’re willing to do. And I worked hard and people would leave and I would get different jobs.”
Hodge has published one book, “The Mendacity of Hope,” a critique of President Barack Obama, and is currently writing a book about Texas.  

Reading widely is among his responsibilities as an editor. “I read novels, poetry, literary nonfiction,” Hodge said. “I’m an omnivore when it comes to literature and to music and to art.”