Charles Oberdorf, 67, will be honoured with the Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement at this year's National Magazine Awards, taking place June 6 at The Carlu in Toronto. The respected writer, editor and teacher says he was “a bit dumbfounded” when he received the news a few weeks ago. Today, he feels honoured. “It’s particularly nice to have the applause of your peers and your colleagues,” he says. “There’s nothing quite like that.”
Reflecting on his career, Oberdorf says the best magazines are like bebop. “You need a formula, but you need a formula that allows for jazz-like improvisation.” The kind of inventiveness and creativity that took place at magazines such as the late Weekend and City and Country Home still happens today at smaller magazines, Oberdorf says, but he’d like to see more of it from the country’s largest titles.
For more than 35 years, Oberdorf has contributed to an impressive list of publications, including Toronto Life, Canadian, Financial Post Magazine, Homemaker's, Ontario Medicine, IE:Money and Elm Street. He's won two previous NMAs along the way. These days, he spends most of his working hours at the Chang School for Continuing Education at Ryerson University, where’s he’s served as coordinator for the Magazine Publishing program since 2002.
So what’s kept Oberdorf in this business for all these years? “That element of it, as a writer and editor—and I hesitate to say this—that lets you be a lifelong graduate student,” he says. “You have not only the opportunity but also to obligation to keep learning new things. And I like learning new things.”