Excerpted from Best of Wind: Fiction and Poetry from 
Twenty-two Years of Wind Magazine
(Wind Publications, 1993)

An Interview with Quentin R. Howard 

by Steven R. Cope 


Famous Editor "Hiding Out in the Hills"


         Back in the mid-seventies I was a stumbling, bungling, beginning, might-be poet, gathering rejection slips around me by the dozens, on the verge of chucking the whole poetry thing, when someone -- I think it was Lillie Chaffin -- was kind enough to suggest to me: 
         "Have you tried Quentin Howard?"
          No, I hadn't. 
         "Well, you ought to." 
         So like a thousand and one other beginning writers of my "Zhivago" generation, I typed, retyped, folded neatly, prayed over, and mailed two or three painfully terrible poems and perhaps one not so terrible to Quentin R. Howard, Editor, Wind Magazine, RFD Route #1, Box 810 [now 809K], Pikeville, KY 41501. 
         On 4/12/75 I received this reply: 

Dear Steven-- 

I'm going to take "Blood Red Knee" but it will be late -- late in the year -- before I can publish it. OK? If so, send me a biographical sketch for publishing when I print your poem. Believe me, when an editor tells you he's overstocked, he is telling the truth. I'm snowed under. 

                                                        The best, 
                                                        Quentin R. Howard 

         Of course Mr. Howard was snowed under: at that time he was receiving over 400 submissions of poetry and fiction every month of the year, spent a minimum of three or four hours a day poring over and through manuscripts, and was forced, out of necessity, to reject 99% of them. But because he made it his business to be generous, almost too generous, to novices like me, he somehow found the space for my third publication and restored my flagging confidence. 
         No doubt a similar story could be repeated over and over -- and not only by Kentucky writers. Work from every state in the nation, from Europe, from Australia, lately even from the Persian Gulf, has found its way into the pages of Wind, work by Jesse Stuart, James Still, Jim Wayne Miller, Harold Witt, George Scarborough, May Sarton, Robert Lowry, Greg Kuzma, Kay Boyle, Gerald Locklin, David Bottoms -- hundreds of others. 
         But I was one of the fortunate ones who was able to thank him personally. 
         November 4, 1992, in Pikeville, Kentucky, over dinner at Jerry's Restaurant, I met the man who for 21 years had worked so selflessly and without pay to keep literature thriving in Kentucky, and the man who only recently had announced the retirement of Wind. Along with Charlie G. Hughes, then a staff member of The Lexington Press, I had come southeast of Lexington with a wild idea or at the very least an intriguing question: Could we (should we?) take over the publication of Wind
         From the moment Mr. Howard walked into the room, he seemed strangely familiar, reminding me as he did of the rustic old-timers of my Menifee County childhood, the ones who periodically and routinely dropped by Papaw Egelston's country store and stayed for hours to whittle, smoke, chew, reminisce, tell stories. Like them he was unassuming, mountain. Young for his seventy-four years, though just a bit on the stoic side, he seemed a man who had spent some time alone. 
         We looked at each other like" And-so-this-is-you," used first names, talked first about the weather, then the food, ordered coffee, Cokes, meals, nervously settled in, while in the back of my mind "I-wish-I'd sent-him-better-poems" kept playing like a bad line of tetrameter. What I wanted to do was this: lead up to the question, you know, brag on Wind, brag on Mr. Howard, tell him how much he and his work had meant to me and to everyone else, how much of a loss it would be if Wind were to fold, suggest that Charlie and I, maybe, and if the details could be worked out, and if Mr. Howard thought it would be feasible, did he think that ... perhaps ... 
         "We were wondering if we could take over Wind!" 
         That was Charlie. Before my first sip of coffee he'd laid our secret flat out. 
         "Yeah, Quentin," I said. 
         Then Quentin told us plainly how there was no way he could continue publishing the magazine, as much as he'd like to, as much as the magazine had meant to him through the years. Rising costs of both printing and mailing were eating away at his modest monthly pension and social security benefits; and with no financial assistance the magazine was just getting to be more than he could handle. "Oh, I got a grant or two along the way," he said, "but it takes a lawyer to fill those forms out. I don't fool with them anymore. And besides ... I'm getting old. I had bypass surgery in January of '87 and in May 1990 I had an aneurysm. That aneurysm hurt me the worst; I'm just as sore now as the day I had it.... " 
         So that, in brief, was how our first meeting began. And before our dinner was over, we'd come to a gentlemen's agreement -- they still do that in the mountains -- that we would in fact assume control of Wind, that our first issue would be the one you now hold in your hands, and that at some future date, January 2, 1993 as it turns out, we would meet again to discuss more specifically the terms of our "take over," as well as hear some of the history of both Quentin R. Howard and Wind Magazine. Some of our dialogue at that time, with, I hope, much of the random digression removed, sounded like this: 

Quentin: My life has been pretty much unexciting, I guess. I was born September 10, 1918, at Johns Creek ... the youngest of ten children ... named after Theodore Roosevelt's son Quentin. I went to grade school at the Mayflower School in Johns Creek (Pike County) ... then to Johns Creek High School. 

Steve: Any particular influence that you recall from those years? Any special teachers? Special writers? 

Q: As far as writers go, well, when I was young I liked it all pretty much. Robert Frost maybe the best, and Jesse Stuart. I liked Jesse Stuart's poetry and I liked his prose. A lot of people up here don't like Jesse, but I do. I always have. I always liked traditional poetry better than underground stuff, although I've published some of it. But I'd read anything, really, then. 

S: And the teachers? 

Q: Oh, my, the good teachers I had ... in those early days, I mean.  Mrs. Turner (from Johns Creek). Donald Bishop. Mr. Bishop came from Boston and he went out of his way to introduce literature to his students. He'd bring a whole stack of magazines to class -- Liberty, Colliers, stuff like that--and say, "There you are, Quentin, read whatever you like." I really can't name any good teachers in college though -- well, maybe one. I had one in Peabody, a visiting professor, I think, but I can't recall his name. 

S: But you started your college career in Pikeville, isn't that right? 

Q: That's right. I went to Pikeville College for two years ... then to the army (the Eighth Air Force) and was overseas for four years, England, France, Germany. Nothing much took place, not when I was there. I came back and went to Morehead State University, back in the days when Morehead was young, Ben Franklin days, you know. AB degree there. Then went to UK some, and spent three summer terms at Vanderbilt (MA) and Peabody in Nashville, Tennessee. After that I started teaching. I taught 29 years ... 

This he said with pride, emphasizing the "twen-ty-nine years, drawling out the four syllables to be sure we heard him right; we could tell he was very much satisfied with that part of his life, and maybe a tad amazed at his own endurance. 

S: So you retired in ... 

Q: 1976. 

Then without any prompting or questions on our part Mr. Howard returned to discussing his family ... 

Q: I'm the only surviving child of Harman and Anne Howard. My father died August 1934. My mother died December 1939. We buried her on the day before Christmas. They were farmers -- my parents . 

... and his land. 

Q: There were no strip mines on Johns Creek in those days, not until five or ten years ago. We had clean water then -- clear as a crystal. They did a lot of blasting and they ruined people's houses, you see. 

S: Did anyone in the area, anyone from your family in particular, protest that at all? Did anyone try to fight it? 

Q: Well, we protested the railroad, not so much the mines. Most of the blasting came when they started putting in the railroad. 

As Charlie and I considered the mines, the railroads, and the inevitable emotions those two subjects called up, Quentin detailed the damages done by the blasting to his own home on Johns Creek, a house he built himself in 1956. At length we brought our discussion around to the business of writing. 

S: So how old were you when you started writing, I mean writing to be published? 

Q: I've been writing since I was in high school. In fact, I paid my way through high school writing -- remember, a dollar and a half or five dollars for something in those days was a fortune. 

S: Still is. 

Q: I know it! Anyway, I wrote some articles -- remembrances -- for the Christian Science Monitor "Home Forum" page. You could get $2.50 or $3.00 for those if they were any good. The first article I published, I remember, in the Christian Science Monitor, was called "Buttons in Kentucky" -- back in my day, you know, people kept little jars full of buttons and I wrote an article about those. I got $35 for it! I had a book published called Down a Dusty Road that was just essays on country living. Pikeville College Press did that. I wrote some poetry, too, but not much. Seemed like editors wanted to publish poets who were well known, but how could you get well known if no one'd publish you? That's really why I started Wind. 

S: Tell us about that. 

Q: Well, Bruce Brown and I had gone to Big Stone Gap, Virginia, to see "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine" -- that was back in '71. We were staying in a motel and in our room that night I just decided to do a magazine that would publish beginners as well as established poets. In a restaurant later on I drew a circle on a piece of paper around the bottom of a champagne bottle and just wrote N/S/E/W around it so it would look like a compass. That would be the cover. I didn't want the magazine to be completely Appalachian, you know, so I called it Wind, because I knew the wind blows everywhere. I wanted a variety of stuff, you see. And that's basically when and how the magazine was founded. Bruce, who was the editor of [Pikeville College's] Twigs at that time, helped me a lot with that first issue. He would send me some of the best work Twigs had received but for one reason or another was unable to publish. My first issue came out in April, 1971. I printed 500 copies for 250 dollars and sold them for $1.50 each. So I did all right really. Today the same number costs me something like $3,100, not counting the postage--in other words, if I had all the money I've spent on Wind, I'd be the richest man on Johns Creek -- but I could make a dollar or two back then. I had several subscriptions (you know contributors don't subscribe; you've got to sell to others). Some people jumped me because I had east and west backwards, on the wrong sides of the cover. I finally switched it after 20 years ... but I think it ought to go back to the way it was. 

S: But evidently you were a pretty good writer yourself, selling work to Grit, the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, places like that.... Was it really necessary for you to give up writing yourself? 

Q: Oh my lands yes! Didn't have time with that magazine. I found out pretty quick I'd have to give up my writing. I doubt if I could ever get back to it now. 

S: Any regrets? 

Q: No, no regrets. I believe if I hadn't published some of those people back there, they would have been held back in life. I mean, I helped them get their start. I'm proud that of about 172 first-time-published writers in Wind Magazine, 132 are publishing now everywhere, with major magazines, books, etc., to their credit. I still keep up with them and congratulate them with a card or something. Besides that, though I never did really try to promote the magazine, my subscription list has been up to 650; every college in the state with the exception of Northern Kentucky University and Morehead State University has taken the magazine through the years. And though I never did try to place it in bookstores (Hawley-Cooke in Louisville's the only bookstore that takes it regularly), I sell out about every issue; and my stories and poems win prizes, Best American Short Stories, The O'Henry Awards, Pushcart Prizes, things like that ... and we've been mentioned several times as distinctive, one of the top ten small press publications in the U.S. according to Writer's Digest back in the mid-80's. So what I've done has been necessary, I guess. 

S: Then a good editor, wouldn't you say, plays a pretty important role in the whole literary process. 

Q: Oh, yes. And a difficult one. You read the worst and the best. You have to make a decision. And that's not easy. 

S: Allen G. Breed, in The Washington Post, quoted you as saying, "I can imagine them [the writers] saying, 'Now, what does a hillbilly like that know about poetry?' Very little .... I don't care. I'm paying for the magazine." 

Q: Yes, I remember that. 

S: Do you still feel that way? Should an editor be true to his own particular instinct as to what's good and bad, regardless of any popular trends? 

Q: Absolutely. I've accepted only about 1 % of the work I've received --maybe not that much. And anyway, I'm so bumfuzzled about poetry anymore. I always just took what I liked. And not everybody's been happy about my choices. I've had poets send me as much as fifty dollars to print their poem. And some said they were coming up here to wring my neck. 

S: I've heard something about that. Bruce Brown said somewhere that a well-known writer once accused you of being "a famous editor 'hiding out in the hills'" so you wouldn't have to put up with disgruntled submitters. 

Q: Oh, yes, some people get real hot. But there's another side too: some poets have sent me a good poem and then died before I had the chance to publish them. That's tough too. Editors have to just do what they can to see that the best writing gets in print. 

S: If reviews and articles about you and Wind are any indication, you've succeeded in doing just that. Here's what a few writers have lately said: 

What is perhaps most impressive about Wind is that it turned 20 last year ['91], while most small magazines survive only a fifth that long. 
--Allen G. Breed 

Wind Magazine is reprinted more than any other small magazine in its class. It has, in its eclectic way, published for the first time more notable writers than any other modem American small magazine. 
--Bruce Bennett Brown 

Perhaps the unselfish love and care the strong-principled Annie Howard instilled within her son paved the steps for Quentin to start his literary magazine, Wind, that ranks among the top 10 small literary magazines in the U.S. 
--Alice Kinder 

It is with genuine pleasure and high expectations that I turn to Wind -- knowing as I do that it is presided over by an editor who, while seeking poetry that is well-crafted and relevant to the human condition ... is keeping one eye on the timely and the other fixed on the timeless. 
--Charles Semones 

A Kentucky writer once remarked that this state produces some outstanding writers, even though it produces few outstanding readers. It also produces some outstanding editors, and Quentin Howard, alone with his work on a hillside on Lower Johns Creek, is one of them. 
--Bruce Hopkins 

         And lately, as the word has gotten out that you are retiring, I've heard dozens of others praise you and Wind. In fact, everyone I know who's familiar with the magazine agrees that your work through the years has been a major accomplishment, something that will not be forgotten, and something we do not intend to let die. We all thank you for the thousands of hours you've spent reading our work -- most of it bad -- and the thousands of letters you've answered. And thanks for twenty-two years of Wind Magazine, which has become a Kentucky tradition. 

Q: It's been my pleasure. 

S: I wonder now if you would speak candidly about any hopes or concerns you may have about the future of Wind under new editors. Whatever you say, I assure you, we'll take very seriously. 

Q: Well, I'd like to see it stay eclectic, you know ... you get a good rhyming poem now and then, I hope you publish it. I miss the music of traditional poems. I don't like poems that preach. I get real tired of Vietnam poems -- still beating a dead mule -- although I do like a bit of nostalgia sometimes. But I'm sure you and Charlie will do all right. You'll do all right. 

S: So whadaya say we get some pictures here before we all start crying?

Charlie Hughes, our house pseudo-photographer, $1.98 Special in hand, checked the light, the angles, cast about for some classic poses. 

Q: Let me take my glasses off, Charlie. 

C: Can you see without them? 

Q: Not much -- with or without them. I'm too tight to buy anything above $12.50. 

         So said the editor who has been spending his own money keeping Wind Magazine alive. Without pretension or fanfare, and with little or no help, he has been steadily making his own particular mark on the literary world. Though he's virtually unknown in many sections of his home state, writers from every state and several countries know his name well, and many of them have already written to express their good wishes and to tell us how much they appreciate and have appreciated Mr. Howard. We are therefore pleased to dedicate this anthology to him. 
         In honor of both the man and his accomplishments we have also established an annual chapbook competition -- the Quentin R. Howard Prize -- which we hope all our readers and friends will support. And we feel sure that you will enjoy his "Four Poems" and the work he has selected as "Best of Wind" over the last 22 years. 

                                                                                    ---  src, july 21, 1993


Note:  In recent years the Quentin R. Howard Poetry Prize has been awarded by Wind Publications to full-length collections of poems published by Wind.