March 18, 2015 | by Kendyl Noon, courtesy of The Daily Mississippian
W. Ralph Eubanks, alumnus, exemplifies the success one can achieve with a liberal arts education from the University of Mississippi.
Eubanks is originally from Mount Olive, Mississippi, a small town about 50 miles south of Jackson. Although he came from a small town, his worldview and curiosity were not limited during his adolescence.
“I have always been a reader. As a little boy, I made up my own books and magazines,” Eubanks said.
When asked if a career in writing and editing has been a life goal, Eubanks said he originally he came to The University of Mississippi on a pre-med track but shifted interests after taking an English literature class his sophomore year that pushed him to explore his true academic interests.
“A lot of the people who shaped my undergraduate experience were in the English department,” Eubanks said.
Eubanks went on to major in psychology but used his background in English to explore the “interesting intersection between literature and psychology,” delving deeper into the subject during his postgraduate career at the University of Michigan.
After Eubanks finished his master’s degree, he went on to pursue a career in publishing. A few of his most notable positions were director of publishing for the American Psychological Association for five years as well as the Library of Congress director of publishing for 18 years. He then went on to be the editor of Virginia Quarterly Review for almost two years, where he led the publication to four nominations for the National Magazine Award, which is analogous to the Pulitzer Prize, but for magazines.
While at the Library of Congress, Eubanks developed books about the collection of the library. As director of publishing both at the Library of Congress and at the American Psychological Association, Eubanks found satisfaction in producing books for a general audience, rather than simply chronicling the over 140,000,000 items that the Library of Congress holds.
In fact, bridging the gap between high culture and popular culture seems to be a theme for Eubanks.
“I wanted to change the demographics of the magazine and publish things that high-minded people might want to read but also things that younger people want to read,” Eubanks said about working at Virginia Quarterly Review. “I wanted to take literature out of the museum and put it out into the world of culture and ideas.”
During his time at the review, Eubanks published six issues as editor. The most recent issue was particularly intriguing to Eubanks, as it was an issue about “food in our time” and was inspired by the Southern Foodways Alliance. The issue included ideas about “how much one can talk about ideas using food as a launching point.”
Eubanks said that, as an editor, he finds much “satisfaction in helping a writer shape an article or take it from an idea to something that is finished.”
Eubanks also stressed the importance of the liberal arts characteristics of his undergraduate career at the university.
“My experience at Ole Miss made me a great believer in the value of a sound liberal arts education based in the humanities,” Eubanks said. “At Ole Miss, I learned to think critically and to be intellectually curious. Critical thinking and curiosity and openness to ideas are critical to being successful, I think. And without my very broad liberal arts education, I don’t know if I would have gained those skills and had the varied and interesting career I have had.”
Beth Ann Fennelly, a writer and professor in the English department, commented on what she admires about Eubanks’s work as an editor and writer.
“I admire the way Ralph tackles the big subjects head on, yet never simplifies. He tackles wide-ranging issues,” Fennelly said. “I think his biggest contribution is his writing about race in the South, a topic he investigates with great insight, alive to the nuances of history. He is able to infuse his prose with personal commentary and wise reflection, so one comes away with the feeling of having read balanced and agile prose.”
Fennelly also went on to comment on the value of having such an outstanding alumnus represent our university.
“I think Ralph would have made a success of himself no matter where he earned his B.A., but this modesty of his is quite typical. That being said, we are proud to tell ourselves we played some small part in the forming of such a major American writer and thinker,” Fennelly said. “And it’s true, of course, that creative writing has a long and storied tradition here at UM, where we believe in the power of narrative and strive to give students the skills to craft their own.”
Furthermore, Sidney Lampton, a current junior English and political science major, added how she felt about knowing that the university has such a distinguished and successful alumnus.
“Ole Miss equips students within the liberal arts program with the ability necessary to think critically and scrutinize the world with an innate curiosity that leads to success in the work force,” Lampton said. “W. Ralph Eubanks is an inspiration that proves an education focused on humanities can evolve into a remarkable and lucrative career.”
These days, Eubanks is in a “rather liberating” place as he contemplates plans for the future of his career. He has thought about working as a Washington-based editor for some publishing houses as well as researching more effective long-term strategies for funding and raising editorial profile at university quarterly magazines like Virginia Quarterly Review.
What really ties Eubanks’s interests together is the desire to “promote and give a higher profile to literature and the arts.” As Eubanks is interested in helping give writers a voice as an editor, he enjoys “sitting with someone, telling them an idea and shaping it into something that will actually work.”
For him, this process is very special and very unique to the arts, and he said he would be “thrilled” if he could see the arts rise to a higher prominence in this country and would be honored to help with that process in any way he could.