ONE OF THE BEST AND ONE OF A KIND by Ellen Donker
Remembering our editor
I recently took a trip to my basement to go through the archives of Matters Magazine. This is our 34th year sharing stories about interesting people in our community so it’s easy to get lost in the memories or surprised by forgotten pieces of history.
The reason for my visit was to find out when the name of our copy editor Nick Humez first appeared on the masthead. He passed away on September 5. It is a terrible loss and I find myself pausing frequently in the middle of my work, remembering a particular style rule he taught me or one of the trademark archaic references he employed.
I gladly “inherited” Nick when I took the reins of the magazine in 2017 from founder Karen Duncan. By this time, he lived in Ohio so I never got to meet him in person. But Karen did, recalling how they became acquainted. She says, “Nick hopped off the train one afternoon in 1998 soon after he moved to Maplewood and walked into my Matters village office. I was instantly charmed and assigned him his first story.” She continues, “He lived near my then Maplewood home and often I’d drive him home from our offices, or he’d walk over to our house where we’d talk for hours, about everything and anything. He grew up in Maine, a newspaper publishing family, and he began to share his way of editing, and I was a sponge. His keen critical eye looked over every page, and that’s when I hired him as our editor.”
I was a sponge, too. Since I didn’t grow up in the publishing world, Nick was the only editor I ever had. He probably took a wait-and-see approach with me when I assumed leadership of the magazine, wondering how much tutoring it would take to whip my untrained writing into shape. But besides expertly editing my stories and those of other Matters writers, Nick became a pen pal of sorts, telling me about his days and opinions.
As far as editors go, Nick was old school: knowledgeable and precise. Besides attending to the structure, tone and details of a story, he ensured that the magazine’s style was consistent in terms of grammar and formatting. Nick didn’t want what he called “visual speed bumps” interrupting the reader’s experience.
Matters Magazine writer Donny Levit says, “It’s hard to quantify a relationship via wordcount, but Nick edited upwards to 100,000 words of mine and did so with relentless curiosity and a sense of humor. I mentioned to Ellen on more than one occasion that we need to publish a compendium of his quirkiest edits. Nick’s editing was akin to an archaeologist digging deep into the lexicon and coming up with gold. And sometimes that was comedic gold. He once obsessed over the linguistics of a New Orleans slang reference and later told me he edited out an ellipse because it ‘tickled like cake crumbs in bed.’ He’s one of the greatest wordsmiths I’ve ever known and I miss him terribly.”
It was Nick’s rigor that made our writers strive to produce their best pieces. A compliment from him would put a spring in one’s step that could last an entire day. That feeling was worth the effort to rework a problematic paragraph.
Tia Swanson, a longtime Matters writer and editor says, “Like all the best editors, Nick possessed a ghostlike quality, tiptoeing through copy with an immaculate sense of language and grammar so that your piece got better without your realizing it even had been changed. I never could close a quote properly, and Nick was nice (and good) enough to change it every time, with nary a word of reproof.”
Matters writer Adrianna Donat concurs, “His deep knowledge and attention to detail made each story shine. He knew Maplewood, South Orange, and Matters Magazine content inside out and forgot more about grammar than I ever learned. I worked with him for over a decade and will miss him with every story I write.”
Nick’s wife, Leslie Edwards Humez, thoughtfully wrote to me saying, “Nick enjoyed working with everyone at Matters and took special pleasure in observing that his editorial efforts – ever the pedagogue – had taken root…[he] would tell you that he is ever so grateful for the opportunity to have served you and Maplewood.”
So it is with sadness that I have written this column for the first time without Nick’s keen eye. His input and approval meant the world to me. Yet his imprint on Matters Magazine during his tenure of 23 years remains. And for that I am indebted to him.