michelle legro the new republic

Since Michelle Legro took over culture at The New Republic, the magazine’s section has become a must-read: publishing writers like Michelle Dean on Robert Lowell and Alexander Chee on historical fiction and Maxwell Neely-Cohen on NBA Twitter. Formerly of Lapham’s Quarterly, every history and literature nerd’s favorite magazine, she also turned heads when she created My Daguerreotype Boyfriend, featuring hunks from former centuries.

Tell me about the work you do at The New Republic. What about it is most exciting for you?
The work I do at the New Republic is some of the most exciting and rewarding I’ve ever done, managing a team of incredible writers and editors and having the blessing of our editor-in-chief to be as creative as we want. If you want to make a project happen, you’re in charge of making it happen. It’s privilege to work with a group of people who know the value of a quick 150-word response to a news event, and also the value of working for six months on a deeply reported feature.

Why is culture important?
Something I want to make sure of is that, as culture editors, I don’t simply cover items that turn a discussion inward: writers to writers, critics to critics. Culture should open up a discussion, not shut it down.

You joined TNR after many years at Lapham’s Quarterly. What is your fondest memory (or proudest moment) from working there?
Lapham’s Quarterly I could spend an entire day falling down a rabbit hole of research. Now I have to move a lot more quickly, which means a lot more gets done, but your mind doesn’t have the essential time to wander and make connections.

Getting LQ on social media in 2009 was one of my greatest joys, coming up with a strategy for sharing history online. It was kind of the Wild West back then, anything goes. Each year on Valentine’s Day I liked to share an excerpt of unpublished erotica written by Edith Wharton. And each year new people were shocked to read it.

I noticed My Daguerreotype Boyfriend was briefly revived last month. Tell me how that blog started. What did you get out of it?
I started MDB on Memorial Day about four years ago, I thought it would be amusing to share pictures of hot Civil War soldiers for the holiday. It turned out there was an untapped treasure of hotness in the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs division. I started with an image of a young, shirtless, almost unrecognizable Teddy Roosevelt sill in college, and went from there.

I briefly revived MDB while editing a feature by Elle Reeve on the secret lives of teenagers on Tumblr. I had missed it, and it reminded me of the rush you can get from these shouts in the dark—of people reaching out and telling them a simple image sparked an inspiration, or changed something about their lives.

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