Wild Mountain Thyme: The Last Summer with John O’BrienBy Joshua Bohnsack
July 07, 2021
I started the drive at 5AM from my Chicago apartment to Funks Grove, an unincorporated woodland area twenty minutes south of Bloomington-Normal. I was supposed to start working the previous day, but the publisher of Dalkey Archive Press had been in the hospital for treatment of a heart attack over the weekend. Off I-55, the narrow road twisted through corn fields and forest preserve. I pulled into the driveway and heard multiple dogs barking while I gathered my bags. The door opened as I approached and, in his Irish staccato speech, John O’Brien told the golden labs, “Quiet down, guys, it’s just my new friend.”
The house smelled of cigarettes, which was no surprise after my three-hour Zoom interview the week before, during which John chain-smoked as we discussed the difficulties of modern publishing. The week I arrived, John gave up smoking after fifty years of doing so, because his cardiologist bet him that he couldn’t quit, and he was determined to prove him wrong.
I was admittedly nervous due to the notoriety of the Dalkey Archive Press, as well as the infamous “worst job posting ever” articles that appeared when I initially researched job openings at Dalkey. The 2012 posting for an unpaid internship demanded applicants “do not have any other commitments (personal or professional) that will interfere with their work at the Press (family obligations, writing, involvement with other organizations, degrees to be finished, holidays to be taken, weddings to attend in Rio, etc.).” John was the one to bring up the posting in my interview, stating “I’ve been called an asshole many times before, but never as much in a twenty-four-hour period. Some people don’t get my humor.” While my position was for a modest salary, commensurate with experience, I convinced myself it would be worth the opportunity, and if not, I would try to learn more about publishing.