Geoff Van Dyke is the editorial director of 5280. During his tenure, 5280 has been a National Magazine Award finalist three times and won the Ellie for Personal Service in 2019. Van Dyke has edited stories by 5280 staffers that have been anthologized in Best American Sports Writing, Best American Crime Reporting, and Best Food Writing. A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, he lives in Denver with his wife and two sons.
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit
What inspired you to put together this collection?
5280 has produced award-winning longform journalism for years, and so it seemed natural to pull together some of the magazine’s best stories from throughout its history into an anthology for our 25th anniversary in 2018. At a time when the news cycle is so fast and social media is ubiquitous in our lives, we wanted to produce a collection of serious, deep reporting and artful writing in which people could really immerse themselves.
Who are your favorite authors and/or characters?
Oh, gosh—there are so many. I studied James Joyce as an undergraduate English major, and I have to say that Ulysses as a work of art still blows me away, and Leopold Bloom is such a real, flawed, relatable character. Phillip Roth’s writing has always wowed me, but I especially love American Pastoral. In terms of nonfiction books, a few of my favorites are Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc; Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo; and The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer.
Why did you choose this excerpt to feature in SunLit?
We chose to feature the first two sections of 5280 senior staff writer Robert Sanchez’s August 2016 feature, “Lost,” about a Colorado man who disappeared a few years ago while searching for the infamous Fenn Treasure. It’s a quintessential story about Colorado and the West—wilderness, riches, a quest—and epitomizes the kind of storytelling that permeates “Mile High Stories.”
What was the most fun or rewarding part of working on this book?
By far, the best part of working on the book was reading through stories and deciding what to include in the collection. It was delightful, and a little nostalgic, to read back through 5280’s archives and become reacquainted with pieces we’d done years ago. It was also interesting to discuss with other staffers why they liked certain stories and why they thought those pieces warranted inclusion in the book.
What was the most difficult aspect of compiling this book? Why?
Again, because this is anthology, we were simply compiling these stories. With that said, the most difficult part of putting the book together was figuring out which stories would be included and which stories wouldn’t. We knew we’d have room for about 20 stories, but I’d say we easily have 20 more pieces that are worthy of collecting in an anthology—and maybe someday we will put out another book!
What was one interesting fact you learned while researching this book?
I’m not sure that this is exactly what you’re looking for in an answer, but one thing I found a little surprising in putting this book together was that over and over again we, as editors at 5280, gravitated to complicated stories about the darker sides of life. There are a couple of ways to look at these narratives: A surface read might suggest that these pieces are sad or depressing. But I’d argue that many of these stories are actually uplifting and hopeful, despite the fact that they deal with complex and/or disturbing subject matter.
What project are you working on next?
We just dedicated the entire feature well of our April issue to the 20th anniversary of the Columbine massacre, which you can find online at columbine.5280.com. We wanted to focus on solutions to the issue of school shootings and not rehash the events of 20 years ago, so our stories deal with topics like how the media treats these events, gun safety legislation, school safety and law-enforcement response, and adolescent depression and anxiety. Again—this is heavy subject matter, but our hope was to pull these pieces together in one place to spur dialogue about how to solve a problem that so often feels unsolvable.