In these times when readers are responding to our books “more than ever,” when our authors—including Cornel West, Anita Hill, Robin DiAngelo, Charlene Carruthers, Howard Bryant, 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. And not only our staff, but our interns, too!
This month, we introduce you to our digital and social media intern, Sarah Khalil!
What drew you to publishing, Sarah? How did you find your way to Beacon?
I’ve always had a passing interest in publishing going as far back as my last couple years of high school when I joined (and then became the editor in chief of) my high school newspaper. And then when I was in college, I became a staff writer at our college paper in my first year and worked my way up to copyeditor in my last couple of years while working part time as an assistant at a boutique publishing house.
That was that for a while—after I graduated, I took a break to get some work experience before applying to law school—but plans changed (I have had an absolutely insane year moving my family and myself across the world from Beirut, Lebanon) and I decided instead to get my MA in Publishing and Writing at Emerson College. Emerson is where I first heard about Beacon; I started making my way through its catalog, and when my graduate program chair circulated an email about Beacon hiring interns, I leapt at the opportunity.
What is one book on our list that has influenced your thinking on a particular issue?
Reading We Wear the Mask, a collection of essays on passing edited by Brando Skyhorse and Lisa Page, was a revelatory experience for me. I grew up in a mixed household and to this day harbor varied and conflicting understandings about my race and ethnicity. Ethnically, I am Indo-Caribbean on my mother’s side (from Trinidad and Tobago), and Middle Eastern on my father’s (from Lebanon), and I myself am a kind of pale olive and clearly not white—from an American perspective, at least. When I was growing up in Brooklyn, I identified most strongly as a Muslim Arab American, and it was clearly that, because I wore a hijab and spent a lot of time around other Muslims.
When I moved to Lebanon, things became complicated. I became “white”—almost entirely neutral. I say “almost,” because there is no true lack of self-awareness in Lebanon like there is for a cis white person in the US, because religion as an identifier carries its own baggage and can frequently be discerned through one's surname, but there is still plain old racism within Lebanese society as well. I also stopped wearing the hijab. However, because my Arabic was not up to par with that of a born-and-bred Lebanese, I sent a lot of mixed signals to most people; no one really knew quite what to make of me. But I was never quite “foreign” enough to “pass” in expat circles (and rightfully so; I was not an expat). Even more than that, my mother and siblings have darker skin and different enough features and subpar-enough Arabic that they did not pass as Arabs, so we all had very different experiences despite being a family, which was really quite uncomfortable a lot of the time.
Now that I’m back in the US, I’m in a weird space where I am seeing myself as a Muslim and a person of color, but because I am not obviously either of those things, I pass for something that is Not That (something more American than the weird amorphous way I feel inside) until my lived experience clashes with that of my peers, over and over, regardless of whether I’m among Americans or Arabs. So I’m in this continuous process of realizing that I am “other.” This is all to say that We Wear the Mask gave me a lot of answers there, even though I have even more questions now (and really, the situation is even more complex than what I’ve talked about here, but I’ve really gone off). But I really felt seen while reading it.
How much of what you learned in school have you found vital to your work?
Surprisingly very little I could actually put my finger on, but such is the way with English degrees. It’s all about being an excellent communicator and thinking critically. Which I guess are definitely skills I honed during undergrad.
What’s your advice to someone interested in interning in the publishing field?
Even if you have your heart set on only one area of publishing, you should still be flexible with what internships you’re willing to take. Everything in the industry is interconnected, and you’ll learn a lot, no matter what type of internship you’re doing.
Which department would you like to work in at a publishing house? And why?
If you’d asked me a few months ago, I would have said editorial, hands-down, but now that I’ve been warming up to the industry within the last year, I think I wouldn’t mind working in sales. Editorial is still my first choice, though, because I love the back-and-forth with authors when editing a text; one of my hobbies is beta-reading for friends, and I’ve also recently learned how to professionally copyedit and I really enjoy that, too.
Best vacation destination?
In terms of places I’ve been already, probably Istanbul. In terms of where I’d love to go, Tokyo, hands down.
What are you reading right now?
Hobbies outside of work?
Other than reading and beta-reading (my two greatest loves): baking, traveling, writing bad poetry that I never intend to publish, and going on walks when the weather’s good (maybe that’s a hobby everyone has, but the point is that I am opposed to running). Also, I’m nurturing a burgeoning photography hobby and will be starting ice skating lessons in the summer.