A native of White Plains, N. Y., Arthur Plotnik attended the State University of New York at Albany and earned his B.A. degree at Harpur College, State University of New York at Binghamton. He studied under Philip Roth and Vance Bourjaily in the Iowa Writers (Graduate) Workshop, earning a master's degree in English from the University of Iowa.
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After Iowa, he served on active duty with the U.S. Army Reserve at Ft. Dix and on weekly duty in the Albany, N.Y. area, earning the rank of sergeant. He became a staff writer and reviewer on the Albany (N.Y.) Times- Union, sharing the city desk with, among others, the author William Kennedy.
He left newspaper reporting to write pulp fiction represented by the Scott-Meredith Literary Agency. After twenty-two pseudonymous "potboilers," he tired of the genre and, at, Columbia University, acquired a Master of Science in Library Service. (The "hack-writing" experience is described in his semi-autobiographical writing guide,
The Elements of Authorship, formerly titled, Honk If You're a Writer.)
Selected as a management intern at the Library of Congress In Washington, D. C., he completed training and served in the Librarian's Office as press and public relations assistant and newsletter editor.
With his first wife and a daughter Julia, he moved to New York to be associate editor of a national magazine published for the library profession by The H. W. Wilson Co., a venerable firm near old Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. (Plotnik could be found booing in the bleachers on extended lunch hours.) While at Wilson, he wrote a journalistic account of America's libraries published as
Library Life in America by Scarecrow Press.
A second daughter, Katya, was born in New York.
When offered the editorship of the the American Library Association's flagship magazine, he moved to Chicago (he and his wife having separated) and took the helm of
American Libraries, steering it through many national awards and reader acclaim over fifteen years. In his 22-year career at ALA, he also produced a monthly magazine on video, oversaw cooperative book projects with trade publishers, and was editorial director of the association's imprint, ALA Editions. A frequent traveler, he represented ALA on a goodwill visit to libraries in Bolivia.
Outside of professional writing, which included articles and columns, he is the author of eight nonfiction books and a number of literary works. His bestselling title was
The Elements of Editing, a guide that grew out of his training of new staff. Published by Macmillan and packaged by the Book of the Month Club with The Elements of Style, it sold more than 200,000 copies before going out of print. Parts of it are still used in journalism programs.
Other books (see "Published Works" page) include
The Elements of Expression, The Urban Tree Guide, The Man Behind the Quill (a biography of the Constitution's calligrapher), Better than Great (spring 2011),and Spunk & Bite: A Writer's Guide to Bold, Contemporary Style, a bestseller among writing books.
While at ALA, he met Mary H. Phelan, a freelance artist and illustrator, and the two were later married before a judge and blackboard in a rural school classroom (in use during a courthouse renovation). Today, they continue to work respectively on writing and art projects from their house in Chicago's North Center neighborhood.
A popular speaker, Plotnik has taught in the journalism department at Columbia College in Chicago. Special honors over his career include service as a charter board member, American Book Awards, and first place in the prestigious Verbatim national competition for essays on the English language. He is listed in
Who's Who, Contemporary Authors, Journalists of the United States, and other directories of writers and journalists.
Publicity relating to Better Than Great or Plotnik on words, writing, expressiveness:
Brenda Knight, editor, Viva Editions. 510/845-8000. Fax, 510-845-8001. email@example.comRights and new projects
New England Publishing Associates
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At his mother's 100th birthday, Aug 2008: from left, daughter Katya, a New York immigration attorney; Katya's daughter Sondra; mother Annabelle (died 2010); daughter Julia, a Native Health Clinic nurse in Alaska.
Wife, Mary H. Phelan, artist (http://www.maryphelanart.com/
Uncle, Simon Taub, "attorney to the stars," of Los Angeles. Simon (1913-2012) passed away Feb. 7, 2012, after an extraordinary lifetime of legal work, personal achievement, and kindness to friends and relatives---not least of all this one. On behalf of the family, Arthur Plotnik prepared this obituary
for The Los Angeles Times.
Tom (brother-in-law) and Barbara (sister), Boyton Beach, Florida.
Katya's daughters, my granddaughters: Sondra, born Oct. 31, 1999; Tara Sophie (right), Dec, 26, 2009; and Anna Pearl, April 12, 2013,.