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Reaching Across the Political Chasm

Beacon Behind the Books: Meet Gayatri Patnaik, Editorial Director

Gayatri Patnaik

In these times when readers are responding to our books “more than ever,” when our authors—such as Robin DiAngelo, Cornel West, Anita Hill, and Christopher Emdin—are appearing in the media, their ideas going viral on social media, their voices being heard on so many platforms, we thought it might be good to take a break to focus on some of the staff who work hard to find, shape, edit, produce, and promote those works. Our blog series “Beacon Behind the Books” introduces to you a member of our staff and gives you a behind-the-scenes look, department by department, at what goes on at our office.

This August, meet our editorial director, Gayatri Patnaik! 

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

I always thought I was going to be a Professor and had just finished my Masters in Cultural Anthropology from The New School for Social Research. My thesis was on the role of the Indian government in perpetuating the AIDS pandemic, and as passionate as I was about it, I wasn’t sure I wanted to make the PhD commitment. Around this time, I happened to spend time in India with my uncle, Sonny Mehta, a longtime publisher who tossed out, “Why not try an internship in publishing and see what happens?” I did, and it changed my life.

Book publishing and anthropology are similar in that both are almost designed to get you out of your own skin . . . and both were/are for me fundamentally expansive. After trying different kinds of publishing, I realized that the best fit for me was to find a house with a social justice mission that was a hybrid of the academic and the trade, and so when I got a call many years ago from Helene Atwan, I knew I’d found my publishing home.   

You’ve attended conferences related to your field. Tell us more about those experiences and how they add to your work.

I love attending conferences, and one of my favorites is probably the Organization of American Historians (OAH) conference. I acquire quite a few of our history titles at Beacon and have great respect for the crucial “bottom-up” histories that our authors write. At the OAH, it’s incredibly fun to talk about our books, authors, and what makes us distinctive as a house. It sounds odd to say, but after being at Beacon all these years, it truly feels like I’m inviting guests into my home when they come into our booth!

What upcoming projects are you excited about?

In the next two months, we have three books coming out that I’m excited about: a luminous biography by Imani Perry called Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry. There’s Unapologetic: A Black, Queer and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements from the visionary Charlene A. Carruthers. And the incisive and sharp How to Be Less Stupid About Race from Crystal M. Fleming.

What’s your advice to someone interested in entering the publishing field?

That there are various ways of being in publishing, from being a literary agent to being a field representative, to working at a publishing house. If you decide to work at a publishing house, don’t limit yourself to editorial! Definitely find time to find out about publicity, marketing, and production as well.   

What helps you focus when you’re at work?

Not checking email helps, but since I usually can’t afford to do this, I’m mostly scattered during the day. But I do find time to focus at night.

As a longtime member of the Beacon publishing team, what has changed and what has stayed the same?

I’ve been at Beacon a shocking number of years—sixteen! One aspect that’s stayed the same is that the press attracts incredible people with a passion for social justice. One change in the last couple of years is that we’re having more conversations and more transparency about issues of race and inclusivity which, while rarely easy and sometimes awkward, is a very good thing. This is what progress looks and feels like.

Favorite thing about Boston?

The Minuteman Trail.

Favorite food?

Korean food, specifically Bi bim bop.

Best vacation destination?


What are you reading right now?

There There by Tommy Orange and Circe by Madeline Miller.

Name a couple of non-office items on your desk and their significance to you.

A little statue of Ganesh that belonged to my maternal grandmother, Sheela Sharma. She was the author of over twenty books, and I have a couple of them on my bookshelf.

Statue of Ganesh

I also have a photo of my son, Matthew, at the MFA, in front of the Hopper ‘pharmacy’ painting I’ve always loved. He recently slipped an unripe pear in my workbag on which he helpfully wrote ‘inedible’ using a permanent marker.

Gayatri's son Matthew at the MFA

What don’t people know about you?

That I used to be a daredevil. Some would say reckless and they’d be right. I recently went bungee jumping and realized how much I loved it and am now looking into hang gliding. Anyone want to join me?

Gayatri bungee jumping


About Gayatri Patnaik 

Previously an editor at both Palgrave Macmillan and Routledge, editorial director Gayatri Patnaik has been at Beacon Press for sixteen years and has published authors including Cornel West, Kate Bornstein, Marcus Rediker and Mary Frances Berry. She acquires in US History, with a focus on African American History and race/ethnicity/immigration, and began Beacon’s “ReVisioning American History” series. Gayatri occasionally signs memoir, began Beacon’s LGBTQ series, “Queer Action/Queer Ideas,” (edited with Michael Bronski) and developed books in “The King Legacy,” with Joanna Green, in a series about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Follow her on Twitter at @gpatnaik1.