For those of you who have never had the pleasure of meeting Isaac Fitzgerald, but have been avid readers of the Rumpus, what you should know is this: all of the times you’ve cried reading Sugar, all of the times you’ve read an essay on The Rumpus that made you feel less alone in the world, all of the times you found a writer you’d have never found otherwise, those were often essays and writers that Isaac Fitzgerald, leading captain of our ship, stood behind. I started working at the Rumpus as a humble little volunteer because I saw the beginnings of the site and thought it was cool. We’d meet up, just a few of us, at a cafe on 24th street in the Mission. Isaac was always typing faster and more eager than the rest of us, leading him quickly and naturally to his role as managing editor, making the site what it is today. Since then we’ve all had so much fun. And any time an editor found themselves in a pickle, Isaac would say, “Throw me under the bus!” He’s always stood behind his staff, sending us pep emails that always end with his signature sign off, “ROCK!”. He’s pretty much exactly like a cross between Bruce Springsteen and a cheerleader. Most importantly, he’s always stood behind his writers, championing their work, and encouraging many of them to write about subject matters they’d long kept secret. He’s talked writers through hard self-doubting moments, and in real life, gives the greatest hugs.
When you read The Rumpus, what you don’t immediately see is all the hard work, all the hours, all the emails and BMX bike tricks in the office that Isaac’s put in. Ultimately what Isaac did is, he made us all feel good about ourselves. This world tries its best to make us feel shitty, day in and day out, so for many of us The Rumpus has been a safe home, a place of community, a place where we can be our truest selves. Even though Isaac’s moving just down the street to McSweeney’s, he’s laid the foundation of a home where we won’t miss him, cause his spirit will always be around.
Just to warn you, what’s about to follow is a very long series of gushy praises of Isaac, so that’s why we’re starting with a video from Kyle Kinane, who promises at least one pot shot at the IZZY FITZ.
The first time I heard of Isaac was in Los Angeles after I picked up Stephen from the airport. Literally, I picked up Stephen, hooded, handcuffed and gagged him and threw him in the back seat floor of my car for the ride back to my apartment in Silverlake. After several hours of nipple torture and burning wax, we got hungry so we called a timeout and walked to the corner by my apartment where a BBQ place had just opened. We ate catfish and coleslaw on picnic tables and paper plates.
Stephen told me he had just his very first full-time employee for The Rumpus and was nervous about being responsible for someone else. He liked the person he hired and wasn’t paying him a lot, but still, it was an employee and that was unsettling.
When I told Isaac about that day he said, “That was also the day you ruined his favorite red t-shirt.”
“I needed something to stick in his mouth,” I said. Then he laughed all husky and I wanted to wrap my arms around him and squeeze tight.
Since then, Isaac has been a torpedo of positive; tirelessly operating The Rumpus at record speeds. He’d send me edits at 3.a.m if he had to. Isaac fucking delivered. He has been the force behind The Rumpus; its voice of reason and hysterical laughter. Whenever I thought I’d finally pushed the edge and there’s no way The Rumpus would take an essay or an interview, Isaac set me straight. He never wavered with what he wanted The Rumpus to be: passionately non-commercial, profound, literary and edgy, funny and smart and bare breasted. That’s Isaac.
Charm. It’s not really the first thing one looks for in an editor, and yet Isaac has mountains of it. Not just charm but persuasiveness, deep charisma, pull. He can sell mugs to the mugless, rump to the Rumpusless, but It’s not just impossible to say no to him, it’s impossible for one’s yes to be anything but wholehearted. And as such, he performs the essential human–never mind “editorial”–function. He restores you to absolute freshness and clarity, to purest excitement about whatever’s happening in front of you. I’d say “I’ll miss him,” but it’s more likely I’ll just follow him wherever he goes…
The first time I met Isaac Fitzgerald, he picked me up off the ground in a tight hug and spun me around the floor of the AWP Book Fair hall in Chicago. During my time editing the Sunday Rumpus, I’ve seen Isaac in person only on a handful of occasions, but every email or phone interaction we’ve had–and there have been many, as my technical ineptitude has me nearly crashing the entire internet on a weekly basis in my attempts to upload Sunday content–has been a kind of ethersphere equivalent of that welcoming, exuberant hug. I know I’m not alone in the observation that there are few human beings on this planet who bring the joy, warmth and positive energy to their daily “grind” that Isaac unfailingly has with The Rumpus. Even a person who loves his work–as Isaac clearly has–usually experiences moments of short-tempered impatience with others who are constantly coming with questions and hands out, needing favors, advice, assistance…but Isaac simply always seemed eager to help, grateful for our efforts, and thrilled with our contributions. He is some absurd kind of young (I’m afraid to know precisely–his extreme competence and grace at this young age might send me off to bed in shame), but he’s truly been a guiding light, an inspiration, and a dream boss to everyone lucky enough to be part of the Rumpus family. Wow, will he be missed! I may have to set up an autoreply to my own emails with Isaac’s quintessential “Rock!” just to remember to keep my spirits up, and to try to approach the world and work with a similarly open heart.
Isaac, they’re going to love you at McSweeney’s even more than they already expect to…and I’m so glad you’ll still be a force around here, too. The very best of everything in your new venture. I hope the editorial staff at McSweeney’s is prepped to handle the insane spike in submissions from all the writers who want to work with you!
Isaac and I came to The Rumpus at about the same time, though we wouldn’t meet in person for a couple of years. I’d never been an editor before, and had no idea what to do with the position. I suspect Isaac didn’t know what to do with me either, but he gave me space to grow into the job, even as he was growing into his.
We only met two years ago, and we’ve never seen each other outside of the three AWP conventions we’ve worked together, but he’s as dear a friend as I’ve ever had. Maybe in Seattle next year, he’ll come by the Rumpus table and sell some sweet mugs for old times sake. We’ll toast with some 5-Hour Energy and he’ll bear hug anyone who will let him.
I wouldn’t be the Rumpus Music Editor if it weren’t for Isaac, who brought me on with a ferocity the spring of 2011. Though we’d barely worked together there was a faith he had in what I wanted to do with the music section, an instinct for what I wanted and could do to add music coverage to the site and immediately the Albums of Our Lives series took off. Instead of admin dread, Isaac’s editorial exchanges were always charged with a vibrancy. Mundane tasks such as updating bios, adding YouTube clips or figuring out some formatting issue in WordPress took on a weird joy. It helped that he signed off all the emails with “Rock!” Then we worked together to coordinate the first ever Rumpus AWP event for Chicago and I will never forget after the table crashed and we raised a good bit of money for 826CHI and we’d all had a rad time listening to the amazing readers and the gorgeous music and everyone had moved on to the after-party, when Isaac got down on his knees and thanked me for all I’d done to put the event together. Isaac, thank you for your unbridled enthusiasm, your endless belief in me and your heartfelt thank yous. I will so miss them, but am so proud to be one of those folks to get to work so closely with you and see you on to your next rad radishes endeavor.
When Isaac was in Boston recently, he told me he was going to leave The Rumpus. I started to cry. I didn’t want him to see me weak and vulnerable, so I stood behind him, and every time he tried to turn around to find out what that whimpering noise was, I would move to maintain my position. We were like a dog, chasing its tail, although neither one of us truly wanted it to be caught.
When I first began writing for The Rumpus, back in 2009, I would type up my reviews and mail them to Isaac, who would then enter them into the internet. He hardly ever made any typos, and when he did, I forgave him, because of his ongoing struggle with illiteracy. He’s been a key player in making me the successful Professional Reviewer I am today. I wish him good luck in his new venture working with his friend Mac Swinney!
When I contacted Isaac in January of last year with the idea for “Self-Made Man”–a column I write for the Rumpus about becoming my own man–I knew I needed something more than a home for my work. I had just moved back east and begun my transition, and I needed a community. Lucky for me, Isaac cheerfully greenlit the project, and delivered me into the arms of the best readership on the Internet and, of course, the Rumpus family.
It is like a family, and Isaac’s the older brother of the bunch, with his master of ceremonies charm and big heart. He’s also a man of great vision, enthusiasm, and a talented wordsmith himself. Mostly, Isaac’s a presence–bearded and joyful. At AWP this year, I hid out from the crowd at the Rumpus booth, unnerved by all the sweaty anxiety in the air. Isaac was there, selling mugs and giving bear hugs, and he greeted me with exuberance and then moved over to make room, just like he’s always done. What a guy. We’re all so lucky to know him.
Isaac is the guy you want to have next to you when everything goes to hell. He gets right down to work and doesn’t give up, no matter how crazy things appear. He’s an old world man with a new world charm. I’m lucky to call him a friend.
Isaac once said this to me:
Nothing, NOTHING, makes me happier than hearing that the Rumpus is helping our writers get more attention. I fucking LOVE it.
And: Well, raise your hands if words have always been an escape mechanism (we all raise hands):
A word wizard, the world’s best hugger, and a fantastic person to be the tour guide for my escapades into other people’s minds and hearts.
The other day I saw a man with Isaac’s beard and I got incredibly homesick for San Francisco. I want to curl him up like a kitten in a sunbeam and pet his hair.
When I’m with writers who know Isaac, I like to very casually mention his name because there’s this thing that happens when I do this. What happens is their eyes light up and they begin, one by one, to sing his praises. They exchange stories about how they met him and what they most like about him. They tell each other how he championed their writing and how much he’s made The Rumpus what it is. People can go on and on about how much they love him. It’s incredible. When I get home, there have been times I’ve emailed him. In case you didn’t know, people love you. Or without anyone knowing, I’ve texted him as the conversation is happening, Everyone is saying nice things about you, per usual.
— Zoe Ruiz
I really can’t overstate how much I’m going to miss Isaac. I’ve long viewed The Rumpus as mostly a “sports-free” zone, at least free of sports how it’s normally covered, and this presented a challenge to me when I told him that I wanted to write a Super Bowl preview for him. He could’ve said, “have you read the site lately?” as a lot of editors rightfully could’ve. Instead, he took a chance on a weird idea, and every year now I try to explain a baffling game to people who normally don’t know and don’t care.
In doing so, Isaac let me write the kind of football preview I would read if I knew it existed, which makes it a joy to write, which makes me happy. In short: Isaac makes me happy. He will be missed around here.
There are some beautiful opening lines of a Saul Bellow story about another talented Isaac, Isaac Rosenfeld, that goes something like this: Yeah, I knew the guy. We were boys in Chicago. He was wonderful. So yeah, I knew the guy. He was a boy in San Francisco, and I was – what? – elderly in comparison, and yeah, I’d say he was pretty wonderful. Let me also say this: I’m of the belief that certain people are born editors, and a good editor is far and away more rare than a good writer. I think this is because to be a good editor you have to have: wisdom. I know a lot of writers who are lacking in the wisdom department but you can’t be a editor without it. So whatever people might tell you about Isaac, and there are many things, that he’s kind, that he’s funny, that he laughs more in an hour than many people do in a year, that he’s the pride of Massachusetts, that he lies at Liar’s Dice (beyond even the call of the game), that he might have a few too many certain evenings, all of this pales in comparison to the fact that the man is wise. You’d make a good rabbi, Fitzgerald. Best of luck with the new job.
Isaac’s got this mixture of patience, kindness, energy and competence—I don’t know how he does it and sometimes I wish I could steal it from him for just a second. I feel so damned lucky to have worked with him. Not only did he teach me how to properly pack Sugar mugs (it’s a lot harder than it looks), he also taught me, by example, how to build a community that is both supportive and superb at what it does. He has this magic ability to edit with one hand, send kindness to someone who needs it with another, and somehow at the same time deliver hundreds of boxes of merchandise using what I can only guess is a secret prehensile tail. I’m gonna miss him soooo much, and I wish all the best for him at McSweeney’s.
Was there a Rumpus without Isaac? It seems impossible, and may have been a period of only months, maybe even weeks, at the very beginning. Once there was an Isaac, anyway, he quickly became synonymous with The Rumpus and everything The Rumpus was trying to do. His heart, his enthusiasm, his steady hand at the controls, his unflagging generosity–all of these things helped build a community of writers and readers like no other. At some point Isaac got a Rumpus tattoo. He’s young, maybe he’ll regret it, but I don’t think so. His mark on the site is as permanent. Much love and continued success, Isaac!
Isaac makes writers feel safe enough to tackle big, ugly subjects and politically fraught subjects and even the subjects that have our popular attention in any given moment. He is always there encouraging me to BRING IT, no matter what I want to write about. Without Isaac, I would have never had the courage to publish, What We Hunger For, the essay I am probably proudest and most terrified of. It was overwhelming to put something so personal out there, to say, “This terrible thing happened and then other terrible things happened but reading and writing saved me, and continue save me,” while also talking about my love for The Hunger Games and Peeta and his frosting abilities. As an editor andfriend, Isaac made me feel like I could blend the serious and the not so serious and still have something worthwhile to say.
When do you write for free? When you can put your work in the hands of an Isaac Fitzgerald. There’s always a story behind the writing, and when you’re lucky, there’s an amazing editor behind the writer. For the past two, almost three years, the story behind a lot of my writing has been shaped by Isaac. He is the editor behind the writer. Really, Isaac is the editor alongside the writer.
O Isaac, when first our eyes met, then I knew. I knew this thing between us would be our doom. There have been others. There have been Rumpus others. Stephen. Sugar. Ted. Roxane. And then I married Brian, a leap of love in defiance of this unholy force pulling you to me and me to you. But oh, poor Isaac, for you it was too much. You couldn’t bear to be so close to all this sweet forbidden nectar. You had to leave the Rumpus behind so that this tidal force betwixt our loins would not rise up and destroy it all, tear the walls down all around us. Yes, it was noble. Brave. True. Break every beating heart at McSweeney’s, Isaac. Rend them to shreds. It’s what you do.
I remember the first time I met Isaac, vaguely, it was 2003 and we were putting together a fundraiser to beat George Bush. I was thirty-three and he was twenty-two. We’d do these readings every month, and we had the most incredible readers. Jane Smiley, Aimee Bender, Jonathan Franzen, Tobias Wolff, Dave Eggers, etc. We were just all into it and we raised like $2,000 every month until we lost the election. So there was that.
Isaac was young, looking to volunteer on literary stuff and political stuff, so it was a natural fit. He was so eager, like a puppy. And unlike most volunteers he showed up, always. And he worked hard. He worked so hard it was strange. And he was real. What does that mean? I don’t even know, but it’s an accurate description. He kept very little behind the vest. In his knife pocket he carried only a knife, as opposed to secrets. He also drank a lot, drank himself into trouble. And he seemed to have a really good time in life.
Things kept on like that for a long time. We did the same readings in 2006, then 2008. Then American Apparel tried to open on Valencia Street and I had just started The Rumpus and Isaac and I were out there every day, fighting to keep American Apparel from opening on a street that was almost exclusively locally owned shops. We won that battle, maybe putting off the inevitable. But think about it, death is inevitable too. That doesn’t mean you stop living. If anything, it means you live more.
Not long after that, or six months, I asked Isaac to help me with The Rumpus. And I actually saw the narrative of his life, as he transitioned from a young man to a man. It didn’t happen on his first day at The Rumpus, it was maybe six months or a year later, but I was there. There is a big difference between hanging out with a twenty-two year old when you’re thirty-three, and hanging out with a thirty year old when you’re forty-one. He became a peer, one of my best friends, a partner. Then, as always happens, he had his shit more together than I did.
Isaac always has friends coming to visit him and stay in his studio apartment. He takes his friendships very seriously, while laughing a lot. There was that line in a Miranda July story, “I thought these were my starter friends.” Isaac’s never had a “starter friend”, he makes friends for life. I’m not just saying that. It’s actually a strange thing to have so many people showing up at your place, telling stories of your adventures to anyone who will listen, going on about how long they’ve known you. Isaac has an absurd number of those people.
You could have seen it coming, the arc. First he was a pebble then he was a rock. Someone solid, and good, emerging naturally from a boy who followed his girlfriend to San Francisco and never left. He’s always been that good guy. Conscientious, trying to do the right thing, wanting to be liked. The kind of person that would rather pay more than rip someone off. And he became a writer, which is not something I saw coming, but then you never know when you look at young writers which one is going to keep at it and have something to say and a way of saying it.
So now he’s not the managing editor of The Rumpus (though he kind of is, managing editor emeritus). But I was thinking about that. Like, what does that mean? Isaac is good, in the strongest sense of the word. He goes from this job to that job. It’s just down the street. You would think it changes everything but for me it changes nothing. It’s not really the important thing. A day job is just a hat.
My friend, my hero: Isaac loves to say, “All boats rise,” and, I can assure you, he is the water. There’s no way to compress into this small space the four incredible years we’ve spent together at The Rumpus–only that I feel extraordinarily lucky and grateful that we had them. Big love to you, Isaac Fitzgerald.
Isaac is like a warm spring day in March when you thought it was going to be rainy and bleak, but instead the sun rises and the fog dissipates, then it’s a balmy afternoon in the park with a cold beer.
Isaac Fitzgerald is the funniest woman I know.
A Sonnet for Isaac
I met him at a bar in San Francisco
Took shelter from the rain on Chinese New Year
We divulged romantic failures in the Castro
By the photo booth with whiskeys, gins, and beer
We laughed about the paramours who’d dumped us
He teased me for my messy table manners
Said, “Hey, submit your writing to The Rumpus -
We’ll build you up and keep out all the haters.”
From 826 to Verdi and Five Points
He bares his heart on stage and gives out hugs
A charming rockstar lighting up the joint
Swing that mic! And hawk those Sugar mugs!
At bookfairs, lounges, clubs, and SOMA dives:
The Lit Scene’s sweetheart, trading in high fives.
Isaac Fitzgerald is one of the coolest motherfuckers I ever met — a passionate reader, thinker, and human being. Anything he touches will turn to gold.
One thing I can say about Isaac, is that my life is now significantly better than when I met him in 2009, and he has had more to do with that change than he probably realizes. I joined the Rumpus shortly after it launched, and what I found around the site was exactly the kind of supportive and smart group of people that I’d been hoping to luck my way into for years. Long story, but for the most part it was the close friends I made there who gave me the courage to make the changes I needed.
And I don’t think any of that would have happened quite the same way without Isaac. His warm, generous spirit had so much to do with fostering the culture of supportiveness and friendship and generosity there, that I just can’t imagine what it would have been like without him, or if it would have worked at all. At meetings and events, he conveyed a sense that we were all involved together on this big something that *actually mattered* and wasn’t just a website. That something was about giving a shit about the culture we live in, and having a place to give expression to difficult emotions and explore difficult issues, and to not allow the subsequent conversation to devolve into the stupid ugliness we saw everywhere else on the internet.
It’s of a piece with how Isaac is in person. He wants people to be nice to each other, he wants you to make friends with his friends, and he wants to be sure that things are going well for you. And if they’re not? Well, he drops everything and *listens* to you. Who listens, anymore? He’s a gift. The Rumpus will miss him, but I’m really glad he’s only moving down the street, so I don’t need to miss him too.
When I first met Isaac, almost two years ago, I felt at ease in his company. At the time I didn’t know exactly what it was that made me feel this way—his tiny bicycle? his affinity for knifes?—but since then, I’ve come to realize what it was: Isaac’s ability to bring out the best in people is at his very core. It’s what makes him an incredible editor, friend, and mentor. Everyday I’m so grateful to be a part of the Rumpus community, and I’m just as grateful to have had the opportunity to sit across from Isaac and learn from him.
Here’s a true story:
Last year, in early August, I returned to The Rumpus office after a three-week stint in New York. I was an intern then—or a volunteer, it’s hard to say—wrangling together blog posts and occasionally packing mugs, while trying to figure out some life plans after quitting a well-paying, but rather terrible job. I’d gotten the gig only two months prior, after approaching Isaac at a Believer/Tumblr party and declaring, “I want to work with you.” (This is probably the best time to approach anyone: when you’re liquored up, feel no fear, and everyone is having such a good time, the word “no” doesn’t register on anyone’s radar, least of all Isaac Fitzgerald’s.) Anyway, upon my arrival back in the office, he high-fived me as usual, asked me to write some words on an upcoming San Francisco lit event, and then, almost as an afterthought, said, “Oh, and this afternoon, I was thinking…maybe you could start to edit some of our interviews?” Off my look, which must have been an acute blend of surprise and shock and awe, he quickly added, “I mean, only if you want to. If I’m way off-base with this, please feel free to tell me to go fuck myself.”
Isaac has a heart so big, I don’t understand how it hasn’t burst out of his chest yet, Alien-style. Forgive the hyperbole, but it’s true. And not just because he found it within himself to trust some eager new kid on the block, whom he barely knew, to run a section of The Rumpus. Isaac’s heart exceeds boundaries because he’s the kind of person we all strive to be: encouraging and genuine, passionate and dedicated, flawed and unapologetic, good on a bike and even better on a skateboard. He’s one hell of a boss, too. He understands community and the importance of keeping a family together, and this is especially true of The Rumpus, where his love of the site’s myriad contributors is only matched by his love of the editors under his wing. No matter how many e-mails I’ve sent in the wee hours of the morning, no matter how frantic the tone, no matter how many mistakes I’ve made, Isaac has always been there to say, “These things happen,” and “Don’t worry,” and, “If you ever need to, you know you can always throw me under the bus.” And “thank you.” I have never been thanked more profusely by someone in my whole life—for my time, for my efforts, for my input. But that’s just who he is. That’s Isaac. And I feel nothing but lucky and humbled to know him, and to have worked with him, and I hope one day our paths will recross, maybe at some party, and I’ll say, “Isaac, I want to work with you again,” and he’ll say, “Okay…you listening? You ready? Here’s what you gotta do…”
Isaac, I will love you forever and ever and ever and always. Thank you for making The Rumpus so beautiful. Thank you for being my friend. You are not leaving us. You are only moving forward. Deep blessings on the journey, sweet pea.
In conversation and laughter, in person and in writing, he always manages to find a way to re-introduce the writers he works with to their best self, the self that manages — somehow — to translate memories into words worth reading and sharing. What Isaac offers us is more than sound editorial advice: it’s a way forward. What did we do to deserve such light?
And from Paul Madonna: