There are other new responsibilities, too: meetings with publishers, speaking engagements. After a life spent primarily on the intellectual outskirts, he seems pleased and occasionally surprised to find himself in a position of relative prominence. “The company I keep is a hell of a lot better than when I was an adjunct teacher,” he says.

Summers now travels from Boston to New York a couple times a month to meet with potential funders and donors. During a recent breakfast, he spoke of plans to put all the magazine’s archived content online, for free, in order to expand the audience and attract new readers. Despite his protestations to the contrary, he looked, for all the world, like a magazine editor. “This is the transformation,” he said, smiling as he reached for the check. “Now I have an iPhone, I have a second tie, and I can pay for breakfast.”

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Justin Peters is editor-at-large of the Columbia Journalism Review.