Remembering Reginald Shepherd

by University of Michigan Press on September 19, 2008

by Chris Hebert, acquisitions editor

Orpheus in the BronxI didn’t know Reginald Shepherd personally when I received his manuscript for Orpheus in the Bronx. But it was a wonderful book, and it was easy to decide it was something we had to publish.

Because it was so polished, right from the start, there was no need for the extensive interactions there sometimes are in the editing process. Everything came together as it never does.

Reginald and I spoke on the phone once or twice, always briefly, always about small things. The book moved so quickly through development and production that there was little to discuss.

I didn’t even know about his cancer until the book was almost done. It had never come up. We never really had a chance to talk about personal things.

Toward the very end of production, the book got briefly delayed. I learned Reginald was in the hospital. But then the book was moving again. I had no idea how serious his illness was.

When the book came out, in late January of this year, I finally met Reginald in person. We were both in New York for a writers’ conference.

I knew him by the photo on the cover of his book. When I went over to introduce myself, he embraced me, as if we’d been friends for years. I instantly adored him.

Throughout the conference, we ran into each other three or four more times, and each time it was the same. He was sweet and funny and charming and he said whatever was on his mind. I’ve rarely known anyone willing to risk such openness on someone he barely knew.

And then I went home and he went home. We wrote back and forth a few more times. Business things, book things, but all of it now inflected with a new friendship. But by then, there wasn’t much time left. Of course, I didn’t know that.

And now I find myself deeply sorry that for once a book went through seamlessly. I wish this could have been the one that took forever.

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