As editorial director of At Buffalo, I’m often asked about our editorial choices—in particular, how we choose the people we profile in each issue.
It’s an excellent question, and there’s no one answer. We look for a certain level of professional success. We also seek out diversity—of gender, age and ethnicity, of course, but also in regard to passions and pursuits. Part of what makes it so much fun to edit a magazine like At Buffalo is the range of people who make up the UB community. Not every alumni magazine can include a leading concussion researcher, a Cirque du Soleil bandleader and “bikeguy” in one issue.
There are other criteria as well, ranging from lofty considerations (impact on society) to more prosaic ones (willingness to talk to us). But the one thing we look for above all else is an unconventional path: a life trajectory driven by a compulsion to write one’s own story, to not be constrained by normative concepts of success, to own one’s moral compass and to make choices that would not be obvious to most of us in the moment but are so brilliant in retrospect.
If you look back over our past issues, you’ll see that theme again and again. Tziporah Salamon (Spring 2015) became a celebrated model and style icon in her 60s, largely by refusing to prioritize social conventions or even financial stability over her passion for assembling exquisite outfits. Hollis Frampton (Summer 2015) was diagnosed “borderline autistic” as a child, walked away from Harvard as a teen, and went on to reinvent film and basically invent the medium of digital art. Nnedi Okorafor (Winter 2016) had the implausible strength of character at 19 to pivot from a personal calamity—the end of a promising athletic career due to a surgery gone awry—into a completely new pursuit: creative writing. Now one of the leading science fiction authors of her generation, she was just tapped to write a series for HBO.
The stories of the people who fill the pages of this issue are no different. Gale Burstein [“A Steady Hand in Rough Seas”] was a successful doctor, and then a successful public health researcher, and could have left it at that. Instead she took on the challenge of leading Erie County’s health department and is now making national waves for her innovative approach to the opioid epidemic. Sharon Salzberg [“A Mindful Life”] followed her heart and her conscience to the Dalai Lama’s doorstep at the age of 18, created her own course of study at UB and became one of the leading teachers of mindfulness in the West. Juanita Hunter [“Intensive Caring”], nurse/educator/activist extraordinare, is still crafting her career and changing lives at the age of 87.
I could go on, but what’s truly amazing is not the number of stories in each issue that reflect this theme, but the number of stories we never get to write because this theme is so common among the people who make up UB. We are a family of independent thinkers, ardent strivers and never-say-never believers, and you should feel proud to be a part of it.
Enjoy the issue!
Laura Silverman, Editorial Director