History of SAMLA, 1984-1989

Sigfried Mews, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

At the time of this writing in the sweltering heat of July 1997, the 1983 annual convention, which took place from 28 to 30 October, seems rather remote. Yet it was this convention that marked the end of Donald Kay's tenure as Executive Director and Editor of the South Atlantic Review and the beginning of my six-year stint in the same capacity. My term of office ended at the 1989 annual convention (9-11 November), and it ended where it began: at the Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel in Atlanta. Faced with the daunting task of maintaining and possibly improving upon the achievements of my predecessors who had created a fiscally-sound, capably-administered, and widely-respected professional organization that provided the framework for intellectually stimulating conventions, I was virtually forced to concentrate on the managerial aspects related to the conduct of the association's affairs rather than to indulge in grand designs for the restructuring and revamping of SAMLA. In retrospect, devoting my time and energy to mundane but essential pursuits appears to have been a wise choice because our association's generally good health did not call for radical measures.

Hence the changes I introduced tended to be gradual. After the comparatively smooth transfer of all SAMLA operations to Chapel Hill and the UNC campus, my various assistants (to whom I expressed my appreciation in the appropriate sections of the respective South Atlantic Review issues) and I began to computerize the SAMLA office, a step that in 1983 could hardly be called revolutionary but that may be considered innovative. The computerization enabled us, for example, to have sole responsibility for the SAMLA mailing list, the centerpiece of communicating with members as well as a vital resource for maintaining and expanding the membership base. Our close monitoring of membership statistics in conjunction with repeated membership drives resulted in a steady increase of members, among them a significant number of graduate students.

In the various mandated reports that were published in the South Atlantic Review during my tenure, I endeavored to adequately express my sincere thanks for their support to the six Presidents under which I served, to the members of the Executive Committee, SAMLA's policy-making body, and to the colleagues who served on the numerous committees that sustain the functioning of our association. Despite occasional differences of opinion between individual members of the Executive Committee and myself, a collegial, constructive atmosphere usually prevailed during the Executive Committee sessions that prevented debates from degenerating into acrimony. The Executive Committee members were generally supportive of my initiatives; I recall only one instance where I was turned down. When I proposed a new design for the South Atlantic Review, colleagues justifiably preferred to adhere to the design that had been introduced by Donald Kay a few years earlier and that has given our journal a distinct visual identity.

The aforementioned computerization also afforded us the opportunity to produce camera-ready copy for the South Atlantic Review in a cost-effective manner. But not all changes pertained to the realm of technology. Owing to the growing membership and the sound financial status of SAMLA, we were able to significantly expand the coverage of the South Atlantic Review without sacrificing editorial standards. The journal's total number of pages increased considerably; the main beneficiary turned out to be the book review section. In 1985 the South Atlantic Review, which had evolved from a "flimsy, experimental broadside" then called the South Atlantic Bulletin, turned 50; former Executive Secretary Edward W. Bratton's "celebratory, historical, and personal essay," which is reproduced here, appeared in the May 1985 issue of the South Atlantic Review, and the November 1985 issue included an index listing the contributions published in the journal from 1935 to 1985.

In November 1989, at the point of "my imminent departure from an enterprise that has required major investments of time and effort during the last six years," I indicated that my "sense of relief at the prospect of being freed from the constant pressure of deadlines [was] tinged with regret at being divorced from an undertaking that afforded me many rewarding moments, provided a valuable learning experience, and, above all, granted me the privilege of working closely with a competent and dedicated office staff and numerous colleagues from many institutions." In the course of the intervening years, regret has yielded to the insight that--for personal and professional reasons--I made the right decision when I requested the Executive Committee not to be considered for an additional three-year term. But I shall continue to cherish the many rewarding moments and experiences that made a demanding job worthwhile.