A Pulitzer Prize for Copy Editing There is no Pulitzer Prize for literature's copy editors -- and essayist Roy Peter Clark thinks there should be. He reflects on an early life lesson on the importance of the craft.
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A Pulitzer Prize for Copy Editing

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A Pulitzer Prize for Copy Editing

A Pulitzer Prize for Copy Editing

A Pulitzer Prize for Copy Editing

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There is no Pulitzer Prize for literature's copy editors — and essayist Roy Peter Clark thinks there should be. He reflects on an early life lesson on the importance of the craft.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

BRAND: Today is the deadline for print journalists to send in their work for the Pulitzer prizes, but few people will note the work of those who helped those Pulitzer hopefuls with their spelling and grammar and that's because there is no Pulitzer category for copy editors. Well maybe there should be if the experience of writer Roy Peter Clark is anything to go by.

Mr. ROY PETER CLARK (Writer/Teacher, Pointer Institute): As a writer I have for many years, now, confessed to a romantic attraction to copy editors. A strange writerly fetish if ever there was one. My odd yearning can be traced to a childhood trauma.

When I was just a little writer, about ten, growing up in a New York suburb I began to feel the first tremors of emerging manhood. I felt the most powerfully in the presence of a local teenage girl whose nickname was Angel Face. She even wore a brown leather jacket with that name embroidered across the back. Truth be told, she did have the face of a 1950s style teen angel. Not the dead one from the song. Bright blue eyes were framed by a pixie hairdo. A button nose, a little bow of a mouth painted bright red. Along with the leather jacket she wore petal pushers, you know those ultra tight forerunners of Capri pants.

Each day Angle Face would strut down the hill past my house and I would spot her like a bird watcher through the picture window. Some days she'd hold a transistor radio to her ear and I imagined that I could hear the music of the elegance.

(Soundbite of Roy Peter Clark singing "Where are you little star.")

This reverie was popped by the sudden appearance of my mother, an Italian American woman named Shirley. On this day old Shirls snuck up behind me and pierced the bubble of my fantasy with this crack, hey there goes old Angle Face. You mean Angel Face I snapped. Take another look buddy boy, that stupid little juvenile delinquent misspelled her name on her jacket. And so it was, Angel Face, A-N-G-E-L, was really Angle Face, A-N-G-L-E. And I could never look at her the same way again, even when she wore her red petal pushers.

The deeper psychological issues of oedipal angst and transference are left for another time and place, but since that day more than forty years ago, I've always preferred the company of those angels on the copy desk who have winged to my rescue even when I was trying to play the angles.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: Roy Peter Clark teaches writing at the Pointer Institute. It's a school for journalists in St. Petersburg, Florida. He's also the author of the book Writing Tools which will be published this fall by Little Brown.

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