Perhaps my happiest experience as a freelance writer was publishing in Lingua Franca, the late, much-lamented magazine that covered intellectual life with genuine journalistic moxie. Most journalists are baffled by ideas and alienated from the academy. The usual approach to writing about contemporary scholarship tends to be a mixture of sensationalism and scorn (for an example, see almost any issue of The New Criterion that deals with the MLA). The Lingua Franca crew weren’t like that: they didn’t shirk from the tough task of taking theory and making it into narrative without doing an injustice to intellectual integrity of the initial ideas.
Scott McLemee was the perfect Lingua Franca writer: he’s as erudite as anyone I know and has a real gift writing about complicated ideas with clarity, so that the reader ends up joining a conversation that at first brush might have been intimidating. He doesn’t talk down to readers or dazzle them with any specialized jargon but rather writes about ideas with the same faith in lucid exposition that Orwell brought to political writing or A.J. Liebling brought to sports writing, or Robert Hughes brings to art writing. Scott’s been lucky to find a great perch for his talent in the magazine Inside Higher Ed, where he as a weekly column.