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Eliza Borné, the Little Rock native who became editor of Oxford American magazine at 28 and led it to renewed recognition, is leaving the quarterly this month to become director of development for the Central Arkansas Library System.
Danielle A. Jackson, the Little Rock-based magazine’s managing editor, will be interim editor after her departure March 19, Borné told Arkansas Business in an email. Jackson will be the Southern literary and culture title’s first Black editor-in-chief, Borné said.
“I joined the OA team as an intern in the summer of 2006 and came back as associate editor in 2013,” said Borné, a Little Rock Central High School graduate who became the top editor in 2015.
“After serving in many different roles over the past 8+ years and reflecting on how I’d like to spend my next chapter, on March 29 I’ll be joining the Central Arkansas Library System,” Borné said. “Recently I have felt a desire to do more public service-oriented work, and I am very excited to join an institution so vital to Little Rock (and tied to my life as a reader). Though of course, this change will be bittersweet because I will miss the OA very much.”
Sara A. Lewis, Oxford American’s former executive editor, has also been named the magazine’s new executive director. “Sara will be the OA’s first queer and first female ED,” Borné wrote, noting the historic nature of the leadership transition.
Lewis’s 2018 OA essay, “Safe Houses,” was a finalist for the Pushcart Prize. A native Texan, Lewis holds a PhD from the University of Southern Mississippi and teaches an OA-focused publishing practicum at UCA.
“I’m grateful to the OA’s board of directors for this dream of an opportunity,” Lewis said, “and to Ryan Harris and Eliza Borné, who have been fantastic stewards of this organization. I look forward to furthering our mission and continuing to connect with our audience through powerful stories. We already feel right at home on the campus of UCA and eager to share some exciting new projects currently underway.”
Harris, the magazine’s former executive director, becomes the OA’s Finance Director. “Working at the Oxford American the last eight years has transformed me personally and professionally,” Harris said in a news release. “I’m humbled to have had the opportunity to help build new programs and goodwill for the OA and its community, while also supporting the continued publication of the OA’s flagship, the Oxford American magazine. I’m grateful to all of my colleagues, but especially to Eliza Borné, who deftly and gracefully guided the OA’s editorial voice during my tenure as Executive Director while also serving as a strategic thought partner.”
Borné, who edited The Tiger at Central and was a teenage reviewer for Arkansas Times, was a ninth-grader when she was first captivated by the Oxford American, which had moved from William Faulkner’s Mississippi hometown to Little Rock in 2002.
A Wellesley College graduate, Borné described the magazine as occupying “an undefined space between literary journal and glossy general-interest magazine.” The magazine, with a press run of about 25,000 a few years ago, is known for its writing, photography and widely anticipated annual music issue. Borné said it changed her life to discover “that a magazine of this caliber was being made in my backyard.”
During her tenure as editor, the magazine underwent a major redesign, embraced podcasting and retired more than a million dollars in debt. It also landed a $350,o00 grant from the National Endowment for Humanities for its “Points South” podcast, which debuted in 2019.
Lewis, the new executive director, was the key to securing the grant, Borné said.
Jackson, the interim editor, joined the OA as Managing Editor in February 2020. A Memphis native, she led the magazine’s music issue project in 2020 and has edited stories by Bryan Washington, Harmony Holiday, Patterson Hood, Jamey Hatley, and others. A former associate editor at Longreads, her work has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Bookforum, the Criterion Collection, Lapham’s Quarterly, and elsewhere.
“The Oxford American is the pinnacle of literary publishing and a definitive voice of our region that I looked to for years as a student of writing long before I imagined myself as part of the institution,” Jackson said in the news release. “Contributors like Alex Mar, Kiese Laymon, Jesmyn Ward, Zandria Robinson are the best in the world, and have shaped my tastes and vision of a future that is beautiful and wondrously complex. Similarly, partner-editing with Eliza Borné has been a master class and resulted in moving stories, happy writers, a delighted readership.”
Oxford American, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit arts organization, has an institutional partnership with the University of Central Arkansas in Conway but its offices are in Little Rock. The magazine hit its low point in 2012 when founding editor Marc Smirnoff was fired in a sexual harassment scandal noted even by The New York Times, which wrote that Smirnoff had nurtured the magazine “with quirky, intellectual writing that promised to help revive the great Southern literary tradition, helped by writers like Richard Ford, J.E. Pitts and Roy Blount Jr.”
Roger D. Hodge, who succeeded Smirnoff as editor, met Borné shortly afterward at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville. The two were introduced by Jay Jennings, editor of a noted Charles Portis anthology and now a senior editor at Oxford American.
That led Borné back to Little Rock in 2013; two years later, she was the magazine’s editor. Under Borné’s leadership, the OA was a three-time finalist for a National Magazine Award in General Excellence, winning the award in 2016.