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Beacon Behind the Books: Meet Amy Caldwell, Executive Editor

Amy CaldwellYou’ve read our classics, such as Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, Octavia Butler’s Kindred, the work of Martin Luther King, Jr., and James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son; and many of you know our current list, featuring books by Cornel West, Lani Guinier, Anita Hill, and Christopher Emdin—books that speak to the condition of the world, and add to our understanding of urgent social issues. Whether it’s the environment or race, cultural or class dynamics, we publish all our books with a purpose. Now you can meet the people who work at Beacon Press in our blog series “Beacon Behind the Books.” Each month, we’ll introduce to you a member of our staff and give you a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on at our office.

For the month of April, we introduce you to Amy Caldwell, our executive editor! 

What drew you to publishing, Amy? How did you find your way to Beacon?

I was drawn to Beacon because I was a reader, and because I was interested in the intellectually and politically engaged books that Beacon published. 

What’s a typical day in the life of an editor?

The first thing I used to tell people interested in editorial work—interns, or people applying for the job—is that it’s not what you think it’s like. While we do read and edit, there are a multitude of other tasks that constantly require one’s time and attention. These days, the first thing on everyone’s list is responding to email, of course. And then there might be working on titles, or copy, or helping the design department think about the right direction for a cover, or reading and responding to many submissions that come in from agents and contacts, or keeping up on reading that pertains to the fields I acquire in, or about a dozen other things. And then we search for time to edit, which is slow and painstaking, but also deeply rewarding.

What are some of the challenges of being an editor? What do you find most rewarding?

Time management is absolutely one of the most difficult aspects of being an editor. That and the fact that almost everything you do can relate to your job. I think the most rewarding aspect of the job is the privilege of working closely on someone’s manuscript—something that you know represents a tremendous amount of his or her time and energy and attention and soul. It can be difficult and sometimes frustrating work, but it’s always meaningful, and it requires a kind of focus that’s very different from our contemporary culture of distraction. The other aspect of the job that I find tremendously rewarding is the relationships you build with authors and colleagues.

What is one book on our list that has influenced your thinking on a particular issue?

I am always learning from the books we publish! It’s impossible to pick just one. And I find good books influence your thinking for years. I’ll mention a book that we just published this spring, Tanya Erzen’s God in Captivity: The Rise of Faith Based Prison Ministries in the Age of Mass Incarceration. While the problem of mass incarceration, particularly of Black men, has been much discussed, people are less aware that the costs of mass incarceration and punitive social ideas have led to the gutting of prison education programs in many areas of the country. The solution to this warehousing of people has been to bring in religious volunteers, the vast majority of whom are conservative Christians. Many of these volunteers have good intentions, but the arrangement is terribly problematic. It essentially means that in order to get any education in prisons in broad swaths of the country—including states with some of our highest incarceration rates—you have to subscribe not only to Christian theology, but a very particular and conservative version of Christian theology. So there are constitutional issues here. And to take another clear problem with this arrangement: these Evangelical ministries are almost always homophobic. 

See how excited we get about our books here? I could go on. But won’t.

What current/upcoming projects are you excited about? 

This is another question that’s difficult to answer. I just finished editing a book that will be coming out next winter, Enrico Gnaulati’s Saving Talk Therapy: How Health Insurers, Big Pharma, and Slanted Science are Ruining Good Mental Health Care. I think it addresses a problem that most people don’t know about, and that is terribly important. Many, many people find good talk therapy crucial to their functioning at one point or another in their lives, and yet its very existence is being undercut by a complex array of cultural and economic issues—none of which are serving the interests of patients. Instead, they’re enriching health insurance bureaucracies and pharmaceutical companies. There’s also a cultural problem here, and one of academic expediency: in our current love affair with science and technology, treatments that aren’t easily measurable and replicable, that are based on relationship and trust and that take longer than a few weeks, are less likely to be the subject of studies and thus to be considered evidence-based.

Amy Caldwell-dancingIn an alternate universe, what career would you have?

In an alternate universe, I would be a tap dancer. Which is to say, a much better one than I am now. As a dancer, I listen to lots of different kinds of music, from jazz to hip-hop to pop. I really like a good groove; I still remembering hearing Parliament’s “Flash Light” for the first time at the age of thirteen. When it had just come out. 

Favorite food?

I love fish tacos. And really hot foods: I used to live in the Southwest, where eating really hot peppers is a point of pride.  

Favorite podcast?

As for my favorite podcast: well, right now, it’s got to be S Town. Still waiting for more friends to finish it so we can hash it out thoroughly!


About the Author 

Amy Caldwell has been at Beacon Press since 1995. She acquires in religion, with a special emphasis on interfaith issues; the relation between politics, culture, and religion; and how Americans live out their religious beliefs. She also acquires in science and society, as well as narrative nonfiction/memoir.