Joe Rago, A Model Writer – By Emily Esfahani Smith ‘09

By Emily Esfahani Smith ‘09
Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of The Dartmouth Review
By the time I joined The Dartmouth Review as a staffer in the fall of 2005, just a few months after Joe graduated from the college, he was already a legend within the paper’s ranks. I remember hearing stories about this mysterious editor of the past who stayed up all night to painstakingly put together each issue of the paper. I remember listening to tales of his expeditions to Rauner Library to research one of his richly sourced articles. And I remember rummaging through the paper archive in our office, in search of Joe’s old articles, to see for myself what everyone was talking about. 

I spent a few hours one day reading through his witty editorials and epic histories of Dartmouth Homecoming and Winter Carnival—and was immediately in awe of the quality of his writing. How, I wondered, could someone write so well at such a young age? Now, I understand a little bit better. Joe was naturally talented, of course—but there was more than that. Writing and editing were a real labor of love for him and he aspired, I think, to perfection. “What’s the point,” I heard him once say, “If you’re not going all out?” At the time, I wanted to be a writer, too, but I had silly, romantic ideals about what that meant. The writerly life, I thought, was journals in cafes, gloomy moods, creative inspiration—that sort of thing. But Joe taught me a different way. He went out into the world and did the hard work of journalism. He researched and reported his pieces, interviewed people. He spent hours refining them. He clearly found joy—a hard-earned joy, I imagine—in putting words together beautifully on the page. That was the real writer’s life.  

I met Joe in person at the end of my freshman year—at The Dartmouth Review‘s 25th anniversary gala. As I got to know him better over the years, he became for me the model of what a writer should be: humble and hard working, but also hopeful. As editor of The Review, his editorial vision was never regressive or reactionary. He celebrated Dartmouth at its best. He wanted his readers to love the place as much as he did—and, with many of them, he succeeded.