Jesse Pearson, an Editor in His Third Act

February 2nd, 2013

Danny Ghitis for The New York Times

Jesse Pearson, former editor in chief of Vice magazine, has started a quarterly called Apology.

In late 2010, Jesse Pearson was putting the finishing touches on his final issue as editor in chief of Vice magazine. The cover featured a photo of a car crash; the back page an image of James Joyce’s death mask hovering above the author’s supposed last words: “Does nobody understand?”

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Roe Ethridge

The first issue of Apology. It includes fiction, literary nonfiction, photography and cultural reporting.

That issue, along with 94 others Mr. Pearson oversaw during his eight years at the top of Vice’s masthead, is now sitting in a closet in the Lower Manhattan one-bedroom apartment he shares with his wife, the artist Tara Sinn, and their two cats, Pickles and Schwepps. “I haven’t looked at it since I left,” Mr. Pearson said of the magazine during an interview recently in his home office, a cozy nook between the living room and kitchen that is partitioned by two large Ikea bookcases. “The best way to break up with somebody you’re in a relationship with is to break clean,” he said of his departure from Vice. “And that’s what I did.”

Mr. Pearson left Vice just as the Williamsburg, Brooklyn-based publication’s parent company, Vice Media, was transforming from an irreverent brand for twentysomethings with trust funds and trucker hats into a sprawling content empire and surprising bedfellow for media titans like CNN, MTV and HBO. His new venture is decidedly less corporate: A quarterly literary magazine called Apology that became available by mail order this month and is beginning to arrive at some independent bookstores, boutiques, museums and hotels. The name is partly “a reference to the classical idea of apologetics,” Mr. Pearson explains in his editor’s notes. “It’s my apologia against what I see as the problematic state of magazines today, both big and small,” he writes. “Am I being coy by not naming names? Yes. And I apologize for that.”

But it is also a tongue-in-cheek mea culpa for what Mr. Pearson sees as his role in having popularized a certain type of ironic and insouciant aesthetic.“It’s me apologizing for having been a part of this culture that rose up around Williamsburg in the early 2000s,” said Mr. Pearson, who is 37 and bearded, with scattered tattoos accentuating his low-key ensemble of khakis and a light blue oxford-cloth shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He sucked down the last drag of a Parliament Light before crushing it out in a ceramic ashtray. “It’s me wanting to move away from that,” he said. “To kind of make amends for what it was all about.”

At 256 pages, with a cover price of $ 18 and an initial print run of 2,500 copies, the first issue’s contributors range from former Vice fixtures (Lesley Arfin, Ryan McGinley, Terry Richardson); to indie rock all-stars (Johanna Fateman, Le Tigre co-founder; the singer-songwriter Bill Callahan; the Washington post-punk icon Ian Svenonius); to literary luminaries (Rivka Galchen, Arthur Bradford and the late Frederick Exley). The writer and former punk musician Sam McPheeters, originally a co-editor, dropped out because he was busy working on his latest novel, Mr. Pearson said, but he writes in the issue about living at the 34th Street Y.M.C.A. during the 1980s.

Apology’s content, a mix of fiction, literary nonfiction, photography and cultural reporting, ranges from the comedic to the arcane. There is a 58-page question-and-answer with the Adult Swim satirists “Tim and Eric”; a sit-down with John Ashbery conducted during a visit to the poet’s antique clapboard-and-stone house in Hudson, N.Y.; and a transcript of a wonky panel discussion about “The Endangered Semicolon.” The cover photo by Roe Ethridge evokes the floral artwork from a 1983 L.P. by the band New Order. Mr. Pearson hopes the idiosyncratic, almost zine-like appeal will help distinguish Apology from the cultural exclusivity of journals like n+1 and The Paris Review, while piquing the interest of readers familiar with his previous editorial pursuits.

“I guess what I’m talking about is moving out of the hipster ghetto,” he said, scrolling through proofs on his two MacBook Pros. “Can I make the semicolon interesting to people who used to be into the kind of stuff I did at Vice? Because I really want to be able to.”

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