Originally posted on April 22, 2013
By Caroline Ailanthus
Dan Kemp was an unusual student who became a Whole Terrain co-editor in the usual way; like several other editors over the years, he took the “Literature of the Land” course at Antioch University New England with Rowland Russell and Fred Taylor. He also joined a writing group led by Russell, who is managing director of Whole Terrain.
“I liked the course and the involvement with writing at Antioch, so when Rowland suggested that I might be a candidate it seemed like a natural next step. Some encouraging words from prior editors also helped.”
Kemp attended Antioch University New England through the Self-Designed Studies program, which itself places him in somewhat rare company. He also came to Antioch as a retiree, meaning that, unlike most Whole Terrain editors, Kemp had no plans to use graduate school to launch a new, full-time career. Whether this gave him a different perspective on his work as an editor he does not say, though he does list the age difference as the first of several reasons why he and co-editor, Martha Campagna, “couldn’t have been more different as people.” None of these differences ended up causing a problem, and he says he was lucky to work with her.
“We were completely aligned in our tastes and approaches. We liked and disliked the same things and we never had a significant disagreement. Most of our editorial meetings happened over coffee at Brewbakers.”
Their volume’s topic, “Boundaries,” was chosen by the editorial board before Kemp was hired, but he considers it a good choice, “specific enough to give potential authors something to react to, yet broad enough to encompass a range of contributions.”
Whole Terrain accepts unsolicited submissions, but both Kemp and Campagna also asked for contributions from friends, fellow students, authors they did not know but admired, and people suggested by board members. They ultimately received far more material than they could publish, and writing rejection letters, especially to authors they had personally asked to contribute, was one of the harder things Kemp had to do as editor. He spent a lot of time making his rejections as encouraging and constructive as possible — nor were rejection letters the only place where Kemp had to be constructively critical.
“One surprise was how much editing most submissions required, and this was true even of the work of some of well-known contributors. In some cases, the piece would need a complete structural rearrangement or removal of distracting extraneous material and subthemes. It was very satisfying when I could help turn a choppy, rambling piece into a tight, smoothly-flowing, well-crafted essay. I found the professional writers readily accepted suggestions, while some of the less-experienced writers were a little more resistant.”
Two years later, Kemp still mentally rewrites non-fiction as he reads it.
These days, Dan Kemp is involved with five different conservation or environmental education organizations, including the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center, the Harris Center, and the board of Whole Terrain. He gives natural history talks, writes, and designs websites, and is increasingly interested in documentary filmmaking. He is in the process of consolidating his various efforts into a single project he’s calling Evensong Media. As Kemp explains, its “mission will be to use writing, photography, and video to:
- Tell stories of people who move beyond established categories and boundaries to find new alliances and collaborations for the common good.
- Honor people who by artistry, teaching, or stewardship, enrich, harmonize, and protect our world.
- Create original work that fosters understanding of, appreciation for, and attachment to place.”
Kemp finds a lot of parallels between filmmaking and his work for Whole Terrain:
“Like writing, constructing a film involves planning and creating a story. But to actually tell the story you must select and carefully arrange a few precious minutes from many hours of video and audio. This part feels more like editing — in fact, that is what it is called.”
Dan Kemp did not come to Antioch, or Whole Terrain, to start a new career, but that doesn’t mean he has no plans. Now, a year after getting his degree, “various threads of interests are coming together for me, and I am excited about some of the new ventures I am undertaking.”
Bio: Caroline Ailanthus is a graduate of Antioch University New England’s Conservation Biology program and a full-time freelance writer. She specializes in working with clients on conservation-related projects.