To be honest, I don’t remember exactly how I first met Derek. He’d probably sent an unsolicited, slightly flattering email to me telling me how much he enjoyed what we were doing here at PIF. He most-likely said something along the lines of “I can think of at least three great writers you might want to publish,” being careful to inform me that he didn’t actually know any of these people personally, yet, but that he could most-likely get in touch with them through other people he knew — if I was interested in him doing so.
I remember being genuinely confused about what he wanted from me and the magazine in the beginning. Given my work in tech and exposure to the hubris of dot.com entrepreneurs constantly selling their vision to whomever would invest, Derek was a man seemingly without a personal agenda. He simply sought to connect people he thought should be connected. No pressure. Nothing in it for him.
His first interview for PIF, of the author Thomas Fleming, appeared online in February, 2001.
Since then he has contributed over 150 separate interviews and essays to this magazine. He has held a variety of editorial roles here, from Editor-at-Large to a stint as our Managing Editor. He fought for (and succeeded in) having me personally finance a reprint of Dan Wakefield’s New York in the ‘50’s — a project that could only be described as a labor of love for him as he never believed it to be financially viable. He has represented PIF at AWP on numerous occasions, leading panels on Wakefiled, Bruce Jay Friedman, and a wonderful 2013 tribute to DeWitt Henry.
It’s impossible for me to convey exactly how important Derek has been to PIF. He has been our ambassador and our advocate. He has introduced our readers to countless writers whose praises he has rightly sung. And he has done it selflessly. Because he simply felt it was important to connect writers and readers who ought to know one another.
It’s equally impossible for me to communicate what Derek meant to me, personally. Our conversations were infrequent; oftentimes mundane recaps of who he wanted to interview and why; sometimes maddening digressions into personal attacks he was suffering. I never knew what to expect when talking with him. It’s a rare trait.
In re-reading this I see that I keep referring to Derek in the present-tense. It’s hard for me to admit to myself that he’s no longer with us. He’s been a part of PIF — and by extension, part of me — for so long he has become part of our DNA. Inextractable. Permanent. This is what I love most about him.
The complete collection of his writings in PIF can be found in the Derek Alger Archives.