A Window on the World: Civilization Magazine Celebrates with Its `Guest Editor' Kofi Annan

By Geracimos, Ann | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 7, 1999 | Go to article overview

A Window on the World: Civilization Magazine Celebrates with Its `Guest Editor' Kofi Annan


Geracimos, Ann, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


With a name like Civilization: The Magazine of the Library of Congress, you have to think big.

Just how big may be illustrated by a cocktail party the magazine is hosting today in the Delegates Dining Room of the United Nations in New York.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will be interviewed by CBS News correspondent Lesley Stahl, surrounded by dozens of celebrities as guests - the kind of event and ambience that can make gossip columnists swoon.

The U.N. secretary-general was guest editor for Civilization's June/July issue, whose immodest theme, emblazoned on the cover in large white letters, is "How to Save Our World."

Essay authors selected by him include Chinese President Jiang Zemin, South African President Nelson Mandela and billionaire financier George Soros. Not quite your ordinary slate of guest writers.

The magazine's grandiose title isn't surprising, given its affiliation with the institution said to be the world's largest repository of knowledge.

What is surprising to many is how a publication of such stature - it won a National Magazine Award for general excellence in 1996 - came to rest in handsomely appointed offices on New York's Lexington Avenue far from its titular home.

Capital Publishing rescued the flailing 5-year-old Civilization in January 1997 and last year moved its headquarters to Manhattan from its less glamorous offices at 666 Pennsylvania Ave. SE.

W. Randall Jones, chief executive officer of Capital, cheerfully quotes figures showing the bimonthly's target audience to be "the top 5 percent of the demographic pyramid, who control over 55 percent of the wealth in this country."

"Civilization," he says, "is about living well with your wealth and understanding that knowledge is the greatest status symbol in the land."

What the library gets in return from its arrangement with Capital is "further exposure to [an] important consumer universe, because I think they recognize as we do that the library is the most underappreciated national treasure this country has," Mr. Jones says.

Capital also publishes Worth, about managing money, and a newer magazine about women and money called Equity.

Civilization operates under a 30-year licensing agreement with the library, with an initial quarter-million dollars given upfront and a percentage of profits promised to the library as circulation increases. It claims 275,000 readers, all "associates" of the Library of Congress, who receive discounts in the library store and dining room.

The magazine's masthead lists as contributing editors some of the country's best-known writers, including Ann Beattie, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Bernard Knox and Garry Wills.

Civilization prints a column by a curator in each issue and a segment called Captions, focusing on a photograph, or drawing or map with an accompanying essay.

Librarian of Congress James Billington will guest-edit an April 2000 millennium issue on - what else? - knowledge.

Helen Dalrymple, the library's senior public affairs specialist who is the magazine's main contact, recalls an earlier, far more sober publication titled the Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress, begun in 1943 and sold through the Government Printing Office.

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A Window on the World: Civilization Magazine Celebrates with Its `Guest Editor' Kofi Annan
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