It is with deep gratitude and sorrow that we note the passing of Shelly Fling, who was editor of Minnesota from 1998 until November 2013, when she took medical leave.Gratitude for all she gave us. Sorrow because she is gone. Shelly died of breast cancer on September 21. She was 49.
It would be a disservice to Shelly to write anything about her that carries so much as a whiff of puffery. She would hate it—in fact, she would demand a rewrite. Shelly was widely admired for her top-notch editorial skills throughout the Twin Cities community, but there was nothing self-important about her.
Shelly Fling and her husband, Mark Luinenburg, in June 2013. Mark is a contributing photographer to Minnesota.
I had the privilege of working as Shelly’s managing editor for eight years at Minnesota. I started learning from her at the get-go, in my job interview, when she talked about her philosophy that the magazine must be attuned to what is urgent. She loved working at the University because what happens here is of consequence. As readers of her Editor’s Note column know, she was a graceful, thoughtful writer who got to the heart of the matter. She was an exacting editor with an uncompromising regard for the written word. And though she never tolerated mediocrity, she had infinite patience for working with writers who did their best but fell short—she was masterful at coaxing clearer thinking and better writing from novice and professional alike. Shelly expected a lot from her writers, but she expected even more from herself and worked hard—incredibly hard.
She also laughed hard. Shelly had a wicked sense of humor, was frequently irreverent, and could spot absurdity in a flash. Her humor, combined with her generous heart and commonsense intellect, made her a rare friend, editor, and colleague. The various treatment regimens she endured after her diagnosis in early 2010 were not kind to her, but she continued to work until she simply couldn’t. The reason was simple: She loved her job. Getting paid to be an editor is not what made Shelly an editor. Storytelling was in her bones. She reveled in telling, reading, writing, and editing stories—not just any story, but stories that mattered. Finding them was her particular genius—she would take the easy, obvious angle and turn it upside down and inside out until the nugget of what made it important was in hand.
In her last column [Think Piece, Winter 2014], Shelly reflected on her tenure. Though officially going on medical leave, she knew she would not be returning. She recalled some of the stories in Minnesota that had stayed with her over the years: the alumnus whose criminal life as a youth led to prison but who found his redemption through education and went on to earn a law degree; alumni and faculty who had been prisoners during the Holocaust or Bataan Death March; those who faced physical or mental illness, racism or anti-Semitism who, she wrote, “shook off their chains because they weren’t finished yet.”
Shelly isn’t finished yet, either. She poured her heart and soul into Minnesota, and her legacy is embedded in its marrow. She was a treasure, and we are all richer because of her.
Cynthia Scott (M.A. '89) is the editor of Minnesota. She can be reached at email@example.com.