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Cather editor says to be ‘open and honest’ with work

Guy Reynolds general editor for Cather Scholarly Edition

Guy Reynolds, general editor for Cather Scholarly Edition

By Weston Poor
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

The world of editing reaches across many platforms of writing besides journalism: Books, for instance, need editors too.

Guy Reynolds, a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is a general editor for Willa Cather Scholarly Edition books.  He edits the published works of Willa Cather, a famous Nebraska novelist, producing a Modern Language Association-vetted series of annotated texts.

The MLA Committee on Scholarly Works serves as a clearinghouse for information about scholarly editing. MLA also is well-known for its handbook for student writers.

As the general editor , Reynolds works on an enormous amount of information pertaining to Cather and pieces of writing about her work, he said in an interview. Many aspects go into a scholarly edition of a novel that set it apart from any other edition of a book.

First, Reynolds deciphers the material that is part of the scholarly editions of Cather’s books. These  editions by other authors can include things like chronologies or bibliographies.

The scholarly edition of Willa Cather’s books also includes a historical essay explaining how the book began, its process of composition, when it was written, when it was published and how the work was received, Reynolds said.

“It’s kind of a very detailed version of a novel with enormous amounts of supporting apparatus,” he said. “It gets you a very definitive form of what the novel was, because most novels, up to today, are produced in a series of printings or editions.”

Reynolds and textual editing teams for scholarly editions will find the inconsistencies in the series of printings and create a standardized format for the text.

The second step is annotating the text, Reynolds said. Footnotes explain things that wouldn’t be evident to most modern readers.

For Reynolds, that means annotating translations from other languages, operas, plays or novel references.

Reynolds gives detail to the reader about the history of Nebraska explaining such things as: half-sections of land,  the division of a water table, railway lines and the University of Nebraska because “those are important in Cather’s writing,” he said.

Like the work of other notable authors, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson or F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cather’s scholarly editions stretch over decades.

“The idea of what we’re working on is that when someone picks up the scholarly edition of “A Lost Lady,” published in 1997, it’s still likely to be the best version of the text in 2030 or 2040,” Reynolds said.

Accessibility is key when it comes to editing literature, he said. The digitalization of texts is the way literature is moving with e-readers and online archives.

“The big thing is that people are interested in creating digital editions,” Reynolds said. “It makes it a lot easier to pull together all the variations of a text.”

The Cather Archive is an example of the digitalization of work by an author to make it more accessible. The idea of having a text, and all the material supporting it, is something that people are interested in now, Reynolds said. Digital forms might be more fluid and more open than the hard copies.

For those looking to careers in editing books, Reynolds advises clarity. Above all, editors should be clear with authors or clients, Reynolds said.

“Be honest with what you intend to do,” he said. “People appreciate how well you communicate with them, telling them how you want to edit their work.”

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