Russell David Harper is the only person on the planet with all of the following qualifications: He has worked as a manuscript editor for the University of Chicago Press for more than a dozen years, and he contributed to the fifteenth edition of The Chicago Manual of Style. For nearly three years, he kept a finger on the pulse of CMOS readers by serving as editor of the online Q&A. He is a technology wonk (I’m sorry, Russell, but I looked it up to make sure, and you are a wonk), with experience in typesetting, proofreading, and printing. And for good measure, he’s a polymath, a published author, and a kind and generous and funny person whose patience and reliability under pressure are legendary.
Because of his unmatched experience in Chicago practices and his techie leanings, Russell was decided to be a perfect choice to serve as principal reviser for the sixteenth edition of The Chicago Manual of Style. As principal reviser, he was responsible for drafting a detailed outline and summary of the new edition and, in cooperation with the Manuscript Editing Department at the University of Chicago Press and the CMOS Board of Advisors, for writing the manuscript itself and serving as its nominal author through all the stages of publication.
CAROL: So, Russell, tell me: when you were asked to revise CMOS for the sixteenth edition, did you have any fears or reservations, and if so, what were they, and did you get over them?
RUSSELL: Well yes. My first fear was for my family. I knew the Manual well, and I knew what a revision would mean. (They survived.) Next, I worried for my safety. My third-floor office at the time—in the attic of a hundred-year-old house in Ithaca, New York—trembled and swayed whenever a city bus or fire truck passed by (about every twenty minutes). So I resolved to make daily backups of every stage of the manuscript to a variety of off-site servers, leaving passwords and instructions with a close and highly literate family member across the Atlantic.